Finding Balance While Caregiving

This Week on Sage Aging

If you were to take a random sampling of adults in the US, nearly one in five would tell you that they are currently providing some level of care to an aging loved one or two. Caregiving has always presented significant challenges, to say the least. Balancing work, kids, and other responsibilities can be really weighty, and often it creates a level of stress that’s difficult to shoulder. The additional stresses resulting from the current pandemic have added still another layer of challenges for caregivers to cope with. Are you exhausted after just listening to that introduction? I know I am. So in past episodes, we’ve talked about self-care a number of times but today I want to take that conversation one step further. What should you do when you’re feeling so weighed down by the responsibility of life and life circumstances that you begin to feel like you can’t manage it anymore? It’s not always an option to just step away, so what steps can you take to make coping with your current life easier? Listen to episode 41 for the full conversation or keep scrolling for the transcript at the bottom of the page.

My Guest

Dr. Karmen Sears, a Consulting Psychologist at Bradenton Counseling in Sarasota, Florida is a licensed psychologist with a doctorate in clinical psychology and a master’s in clinical social work. Dr. Sears employs multiple modalities to support the health and well-being of our clients serving each client’s needs individually. To learn more about Dr. Sears Be sure to check out the blog post for Episode 41 at Sageaging.com.

Finding Balance

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the demands of caregiving, you don’t have to shoulder it alone. There are options for assistance, help, and guidance in most local communities to lighten the load a bit (check the links section below for a few of them), but there may come a time that when the balance just seems impossible to find. Seeking guidance from a psychologist is never a bad idea. A professional will consider the whole family dynamic and the very different needs of each individual.  While the caregiver’s stress management is vital to a household’s success, so too is the management of the care recipient’s stress. Balancing the needs of both will contribute to a healthier household. The gold of this conversation is in the episode, so be sure to take a few minutes to listen!

Links & Resources
Thanks for listening!

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Transcript
Transcript

Finding Balance While Caregiving

Fri, 1/29 2:21PM • 32:23

SPEAKERS

Liz Craven, Dr. Karmon Sears

 

Liz Craven  00:00

The Sage Aging podcast is brought to you by PolkElderCare Guide. Your guide to all things senior care and resources. Find the 2021 guide in English and Spanish at Polkeldercare.com.

 

Liz Craven  00:27

Welcome to the Sage Aging podcast. I’m your host Liz Craven. Sage aging will connect you to information and resources that will empower you to master the aging and caregiving journey. Weekly, I’ll bring you education, inspiration, amazing and district guests, and caregiver spotlights to shed some light on topics of aging. There’ll even be some freebies and giveaways too. So grab a cup of coffee, sit back and relax as we chat. Are you ready? Hit subscribe now and let’s get started.

 

Liz Craven  01:03

Hello, and welcome to Episode 41 of the sage aging podcast. Today we’re going to address a really important topic. If you were to take a random sampling of adults in the US, nearly one in five would tell you that they are currently providing some level of care to an aging loved one or two. caregiving is always presented significant challenges to say the least. balancing work and kids and other responsibilities can be really weighty, and often it creates a level of stress that’s difficult to shoulder. The additional stresses resulting from the current pandemic have added still another layer of challenges for caregivers to cope with. Are you exhausted after just listening to that introduction? I know I am. So in past episodes, we’ve talked about self care a number of times but today I want to take that conversation one step further. What should you do when you’re feeling so weighed down by the responsibility of life and life circumstances that you begin to feel like you can’t manage it anymore? It’s not always an option to just step away. So what steps can you take to make coping with your current life easier? Today’s guest is going to help us out with that. I’m happy to welcome Dr. Karmen Sears to Sage Aging today. Dr. Sears, a Consulting Psychologist at Bradenton Counseling in Sarasota, Florida is a licensed psychologist with a doctorate in clinical psychology and a master’s in clinical social work. Dr. Sears employs multiple modalities to support the health and well being of our clients serving each client’s needs individually. To learn more about Dr. Sears Be sure to check out the blog post for Episode 41 at Sageaging.com. Or you can check the show notes in your favorite podcast app. You’ll find all the information there as well. Welcome to the show, Dr. Sears, thanks so much for joining me.

 

Dr. Karmon  03:08

Hey, thanks for having me.

 

Liz Craven  03:11

I’m looking forward to this topic because it’s easy to talk about the surface of situations like this. And you know, when you hear advice to caregivers, we’re always talking about self care. And it’s important and it is so important. But there are times when just plain self care might not be quite enough. And I want to get into that topic. But first, I would love to hear a little background about you.

 

Dr. Karmon  03:42

Okay, I’m originally from New Orleans, and I did my bachelor’s degree and my Master’s in social work in New Orleans at University of New Orleans and Tulane University, we have a very fine Social Work school at Tulane University. I wanted to continue because I enjoy assessment. That means intelligence tests, dementia tests, and a whole assortment of different things. So that brought me to Florida, where I obtained my doctorate at Florida Institute of Technology. And my doctorate is in psychology. So the practical applications of psychology including psychological testing, in personality testing, so that also led me to work in behavioral settings so nursing homes, rehab settings for strokes, dementia, MS, broken bones and all kinds of reasons that could land people in the hospital and cause a change of circumstances and adjustment which brings us back to today’s subject, adjusting to people changing or aging in place and how that works for the caregiver, how that works for the person receiving care

 

Liz Craven  05:01

It’s so important because the dynamic between those two people, the caregiver, and the care recipient is so very different. So let’s set the stage with a quote, I love to kind of set the feeling and the guide for our conversation. And today’s quote is by Lisa Olivera. And she says, “Just because no one else can heal, or do your inner work for you, doesn’t mean you could, should or need to do it alone.” So I think that is a great way to jump into our conversation about what are your options, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you don’t have to shoulder it alone. There are a lot of options for assistance and help and guidance out there. And I’m so glad to have you here today. So let’s start with a little bit of basic education. You are a clinical psychologist, can you tell us what that means? And what the difference between that and a psychiatrist is.

 

Dr. Karmon  06:07

That means that I obtained a doctorate in psychology, most psychiatrists obtain a medical degree, a medical doctorate, and attend medical school. And, at least up until today, most of them were strictly prescribers. Some up north also do therapy. But psychologists up until recent years here, did not prescribe any prescription medicines. In the last few years, we have been obtaining prescriptive privileges through nurse practitioner programs and the like. So you may see some of us as therapists providing psychotherapy or talk therapy, those different modalities that you mentioned earlier, applying cognitive-behavioral things to help you line up your thoughts with your emotion so that you can feel better. Sometimes we’re solution-focused, again, or family focus. So we look at Whole systems, that would be the system in a nursing home, the system in the hospital, the family system. So we bring a lot of things to bear as psychologists in order to help our patients get a better mind and body. So the emotions are controlled by your thoughts primarily, which is what I focus on. And also focusing on how your health can affect your psychological or emotional functioning. Did that answer the question?

 

Liz Craven  07:40

Yes, it does answer my question. And those things are also linked together of your physical well being definitely affects your mental well being I know that, you know, how many times have you heard someone say they’re hangry? Or that they’re, you know, the aches and pains that they have? are making them moody?

 

Dr. Karmon  08:00

Oh, exactly. I’m guilty of that myself. A lot of times, the people that I see again, because they may be referred by their doctors, they may be referred by people in caregiving settings, because I have worked in nursing homes before, so other social workers, or nurses or physical therapist or occupational therapists, because they’re getting down about not being able to do what they used to do. Or they are getting down about losing their independence, which is the biggest one. So dealing with that. And then on the caregiver side, you know, dealing with I have all these pieces to juggle all the time. Because most of them have families of their own plus work plus, trying to see to their loved one if the loved one doesn’t live with them.

 

Liz Craven  08:54

That’s very true. It is a heavy and I hate to use the word burden. Because I think from the perspective of a caregiver, and I’ve been at caregiver multiple times, I never wanted to classify it as a burden. But the load will say that a caregiver carries is pretty heavy, because of the fact that they’re in a stage of life where they’ve got little kids and they’re working or maybe their kids are even bigger but still need their attention. There’s just a lot of responsibility to shoulder when you are a caregiver. So, knowing that we have two different perspectives to come from when you work with a family unit. What approaches do you use to make sure that both the caregivers needs and the care recipients needs are being met as it relates to mental health?

 

Dr. Karmon  09:48

Well, I addressed them separately and together first of all, because they each need their own time to get their feelings out and to organize their thoughts about them. situation. Sometimes it may be the caregiver feeling overburdened, because they’re getting pressured to come and visit, something’s wrong, something’s wrong. But really the request to come and visit is about I’m lonely. And I don’t feel like I have enough contact or I don’t feel like I have enough stimulation. The days are the same all the time for me, and trying to help them tease out when is a you know, a crisis? And when it is an actual, come see me Can you put it on a schedule so that that person knows you’re going to be coming by X amount of times a week, and you’re going to spend X amount of time with them? Is it possible that you also can take that person out of their environment, and they can spend some time with you at home, and getting those needs met with juggling all the pies. As a caregiver, we also talk about time management and getting the rest of the family to help out if that’s siblings is very important that you spread around the financial needs, the physical needs, the day to day needs, between all of you. So nobody’s over stressed about all the task management. And I’m using that word because one of my caregivers was mentioning that this week, there’s too many tasks. I you know, I’ve got too much on my plate, how do I take this off, and knowing when you need to look at other agencies or assistance to come into the home to help you with some of those tasks.

 

Liz Craven  11:42

That’s a good point. There are so many resources available to caregivers. A big reason that we even are producing this podcast is because caregivers really don’t know where to find that help. And so hopefully, by creating the awareness and the conversations, we can assist families and finding resources within their own community. And so we believe caregivers need to be checking with their local area agency on aging and checking with their local churches and their Chamber of Commerce and places like that, to find those agencies that are able to assist, sometimes free of charge, and sometimes on a sliding scale, sometimes private pay. But there are a lot of options out there as it relates to lightening the caregiver’s load. And I think that’s a really great point.

 

Dr. Karmon  12:27

Absolutely. agencies like 211 also are a great source is I don’t know what’s out in your community, you can call 211 to get a broader list. Here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, we have the community connection agency that manages some of that as well so that you can you know, call them up and find out what’s available to you one on one, when I was in school in Florida, at Florida tech on the east coast of Florida, also provided services like they would check in regularly. I had an elderly friend in her 90s she would get a check and call once or twice a week, depending on how she set it up. How are you doing? Are you okay? Do you need any other services? Do you need help with transport? You know, so she relied on that sunshine call every day that they were scheduled to call and they would connect with the family because her family was out of state to say, you know, she didn’t answer our call. We’re concerned. Do you want us to alert somebody else? So those are the things that can be available?

 

Liz Craven  13:43

Yes, and they are and I would say because of COVID. And because of concerns around social isolation programs like that have become abundant. I know that there is a program through AARP and I will link it in the show notes because I can’t recall off the top of my head what it’s called. I want to say it’s an on neighborhood connection or something to that effect, but they will call your loved one once a week and the Area Agencies on Aging. I know ours is called senior connection center here it might be the same one that serves your area. But they also have wellness calls that they make on a regular basis. And a lot of organizations have adopted that and have also adopted programs where they are putting electronic devices like iPads into homes, where social isolation is a problem to allow people to connect with families and friends outside of their home. So lots of great programs out there. I’ll see what I can do about putting a list together and including that in our show notes for anyone who’s listening.

 

Dr. Karmon  14:53

Yes, absolutely. And you know, another thing that has made COVID easier for us. A lot of people is the the use of technology. You know, I have 90 year olds who are able to do zoom and FaceTime, and all of those things, or we have a granny cam at home or some kind of Google device at home. Again, my same friend, her family’s out of state, and they had cameras on in vital rooms. So they could see if she was up and about as she was eating breakfast. And if they couldn’t see her, they could talk to her and say, you know, where are you, you know what’s going on. And again, have a link, have some connection with family, somebody that cares. As you’re getting older, you don’t want to keep calling people. That’s another worry for a lot of my care recipients is, you know, I can’t keep bugging them. I want them to live their life. But you want that connection, you want to know, you know what’s going on in their lives, what’s going on with the grandkids, you know, what new things are, they’re doing just to have that if you can’t have the physical touch, especially if you’re living in an assisted living or nursing facility while we were shut down, to have that ability to see somebody talk to somebody and connect with them has been tremendous.

 

Liz Craven  16:17

Absolutely, I completely agree. So let’s turn our attention back to the caregiver who is just feeling overwhelmed and doesn’t really know how to cope with it. They’ve tried taking 30 minutes for a bubble bath, they’ve tried doing all of the little tips that they hear out and about, but life is becoming a lot to handle right now. What are some specific but simple starting points, things that caregivers can do to start to take control of their emotions and their stress?

 

Dr. Karmon  16:51

Well, it goes back to again, this time management idea of you know, how much and what priority of things you have on your plate, because there’s a lot of guilt that I can’t do it all. So what is yours in what is something that you can have somebody help you with? So getting that available so that they have some space for themselves? Because a lot of times they’re pouring, pouring, pouring, pouring out, and not having any time to meet with girlfriends or to go get their nails done? You know, so where can you squeeze yourself into the schedule? That is the thing, if you’re not sleeping if you’re depressed because we do screeners for depression and anxiety, you know, what can we do to manage the depression? Do you need some medical attention for that prescriptive medication to help you manage the stress of the situation? We talk a lot about meditation about, you know, checking your thoughts and challenging your thoughts. Because a lot of times people have false thoughts or faulty thoughts about their situation, how can you see it better so that you can deal with it better? The other thing that comes into effect is their relationship with the person that they’re caring for. So they will have issues sometimes with that. And we have to work out how we can improve the relationship enough for them to provide care without losing anything.

 

Liz Craven  18:33

Those are all really great points. And something you brought up earlier on in the conversation also, is your physical well being Have you seen your primary care doctor for an annual checkup? And had your blood work done? And all those good things? And are you moving your body at least for a few minutes every day? And are you feeding your body with the things that will help you to sustain?

 

Dr. Karmon  19:00

Absolutely, a lot of times when you’re doing all that juggling, people don’t take the time to take care of themselves. You can’t take care of anybody else. I hate to go back to that old cliche about you know, being on the airplane and putting the oxygen on yourself first and taking care of who’s next to you afterwards. But it is so true. They miss sleep. They’re up all night worrying about different things or they’ve been doing a lot of the physical work of caregiving and they’re not taking care they may need medical attention for sore muscles. They may need medical attention for pulled muscles because that has happened with a lot of the lifting. If the caregiver is doing that to get the person in and out of bed or in and out of a chair, learning how to lift properly. Learning how to take time to take your medications if you have other things that require medication like hypertension or high blood pressure pressure or diabetes, they they dropped themselves to the bottom of the list. So managing your own physical well being is highly important.

 

Liz Craven  20:12

Do you also find that caregivers struggle with manipulation from other family members? And if so, if they’re dealing with situations like that, what are some things that they can do for themselves to feel empowered enough to take control of that?

 

Dr. Karmon  20:30

a lot of times we look at doing the conversations in session so that we can get the outcomes that they’re looking for or recognizing whether or not the outcomes are even possible from these individuals. That’s why we try to separate out who can do what sometimes it’s bringing that person into the session, by phone or in person to talk about, you know, what this really means in educating them more from the professional standpoint, because they don’t want to hear it from the loved one. They just want it taken care of. So educating that other person helping with solution focused ideas to get your point across or to get most of what you need from that person. And recognizing when you need to look elsewhere, because it’s just never going to come.

 

Liz Craven  21:25

Right. Do you feel like you have certain skill sets that you like to teach caregivers that tend to be universally helpful?

 

Dr. Karmon  21:36

Well, definitely the stress management skills, we spend a lot of time on what to do to counteract the stress, again, meditation, walking, physical exercise, time to do some mindfulness, the mindfulness skills help, because even if you feel like, you don’t have enough time to spend on your stuff, everybody’s got 15 to 20 minutes, even if that 15 to 20 minutes is in your shower, or while you’re combing your hair. Everybody has that time to do some meditation, prayer or mindfulness. And these are really universal skills that everyone can use some kind of spiritual life and spiritual connection is really important to getting over life’s speed bumps. So we talk about what kinds of spiritual connections you have, what other community supports you have to help to build up your resiliency. So we do that, we also talk about different skills to label your emotions so that you can then improve the emotions or make it better, never discounting or dismissing or suppressing the emotions. So we talk about all of those things as well as common issues again, like roles switching, if the caregiver is a parent, or if the person is a spouse, you we talk about the changing of the roles and giving them space to feel their emotions in a safe space, and then manage those emotions.

 

Liz Craven  23:21

All fantastic. That reminds me of an episode we did not too long ago, and I don’t remember the number of it, but we’ll link it in the show notes as well. We did an episode on emotional detox was sharing in a boil. And boy, that was a great episode just talking about, like you said, not dismissing those feelings, but allowing yourself to process through them. And that is such a great point and something a skill that everybody should have, whether they do that through meditation or prayer, or what have you, all of it is good and all of it is positive.

 

Dr. Karmon  23:56

Absolutely, and even journaling it as well to write it down. And to get it out. We talked about that. Another one depending on the situation is simple container exercise, which includes writing it down, or you can have a figurative container idea in your head. No matter the size of it, it could be as small as a tea cup or as largest one person chose a dumpster. To put it in as long as you can put all of those emotions that you cannot deal with right now in the moment because you have to go have a meeting with the doctor or you have to go have a meeting with the school and you can’t talk about what’s going on with the person you’re caring for at this moment. And you got to deal with x y z instead. So you can put it all in the dumpster experience the feelings for that 15 to 20 minutes, let it out, and then later when you’re able to address those feelings when you are in it. To save space to do so you can take them out as you are ready and say, you know, I was feeling really crappy today because I felt like everybody was getting at me. I felt like everybody wanted something from me. And I didn’t want to do any of the things that they wanted. I just wanted to be by myself. So you can come back to it and say, Well, hey, maybe I need to find another 20 minutes in my day, just for me for quiet where nobody is making demands, or pressuring me to make a decision. And I can just be.

 

Liz Craven  25:37

Well I think that was where we just hit gold. Any caregiver listening, I’m sure those words just resonated with thank you for that. That was wonderful.

 

Dr. Karmon  25:47

You’re welcome.

 

Liz Craven  25:49

So what are some of your go to resources that you send clients to? Do you have any favorite books, websites, support groups, or any other types of resources you’d like to direct people to?

 

Dr. Karmon  26:01

Well, since I’m mostly dealing with caregivers who have family in dementia, struggling with memory, problem solving, and making good decisions, we go to the Alzheimer’s Association a lot al z.org. That is a wonderful resource to help with. You know, if you need a psychologist, if you need a neurologist, if you need caregivers, to come into the house, you know, nurse nursing assistance, or if you need physical therapy, or which is also another issue. If you need somebody to help you do some estate planning. That becomes difficult, especially before the person is too demented to make decisions. So to do some state estate planning, some care managers are very important again, because not everybody can do it all Yes, there is often a fee attached to it. But depending on your situation, it may be very helpful to have a care manager overseeing and especially if you’re an out of state caregiver, the estate planning can put it into place of you know, what my wishes are, you know, for dividing up my assets, or what my wishes are for, you know, how do I stay at home? How do I stay at home, but those resources are all in Al z.org. The resources like I mentioned are 211. In you can ask them a question about something as specific as I can’t pay my light bill. What do I do now? Florida Psychological Association, we have a website, it’s called flpsych.com is another online resource that we have that has all the psychologists within the state, and you know what they practice in what they specialize in. And you can look that up if you’re looking for some emotional support to help you through this process. apa.org American Psychological association.org if you’re more looking for national help or say your sibling is out of the state, but needs help with how do I deal with the fact that mom or dad is declining mentally or just physically, they can find a therapist in their area. So those are some of my favorite resources. If it’s about what do I do my my mom or dad is becoming more demented. The 36 hour day is still a classic. It’s still works great.

 

Liz Craven  28:51

Wow, that was a treasure trove. Thank you so much. And don’t worry everyone, it’ll all be linked in the show notes because that was a lot to take in. I know. And if you live in the Central Florida area in Polk County, we do have the Polk elder care guide as well. And that is actually who brings Sage aging to you every week. So that’s an online and in print resource. Go to Polk eldercare.com. And you’ll find that in English and Spanish and it is a very comprehensive senior resource guide for the Polk County area. But we will link it in addition to all of those wonderful resources that Dr. Sears just mentioned, as well. And you’ll find that in the show notes and in the blog post for Episode 41 at Sageaging.com So before we close up, where can listeners connect with you? I know that you’re all over social media and just killing it.

 

Dr. Karmon  29:49

Well, thank you. You can start at the website. It’s Drkarmensears.com that has most of my socials. I’m also on Facebook Karmensears.com. I try to give a lot of healthy living tips and mindset tips on there. And you can catch me on YouTube. I’m not as good with where to get it but you can catch it in my i g my Instagram. In the link tree, it has a link to the YouTube as well I try to focus on holistic care for everybody. So that’s mind body and emotions. So it’s all related, you know, nutrition, moving, exercising, and your emotional health.

 

Liz Craven  30:40

Awesome. All of that will also be linked. Now one last thing this is this is the best piece. What is your one piece of sage advice you’d like to leave our listeners with?

 

Dr. Karmon  30:53

I love to remind the caregivers to be kind to themselves. It is a difficult situation being a caregiver, there are no 100% perfect solutions. It’s the best solution for you and your family. So give yourself grace.

 

Liz Craven  31:14

I love that. Fantastic message. Thank you. And thank you for being here. I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today.

 

Dr. Karmon  31:23

You’re welcome.

 

Liz Craven  31:25

And thank all of you for listening. I hope today’s conversation has given you another tool or two for your toolbox. So keep up the good work. You are amazing and you’re doing a great job. I’m really really proud of you. Be sure to check back next week for a new episode. And by the way, did you know that you can have each weekly episode emailed directly to your inbox? You sure can go to Sageaging.com scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and you can subscribe there and I hope that you’ll also share the sage aging podcast with a friend as well. Are you on social media? We’ll look for Sage aging on Instagram, Facebook and yes even tik tok. We went there. Thanks again for listening, everyone. We’ll talk real soon

 

 

Liz Craven

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As I’ve been preparing to launch this podcast I’ve enjoyed revisiting stages of my own life and reflecting on how this topic became such a passion for me. While I’ve built my career on helping older adults and their families connect to needed education and resources, my connection to the aging and care process goes much deeper.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my own multi-generational family living together in one home. I was 4 or 5 when my grandmother moved into our home to help care for my sisters and I while our parents worked. Soon after, her father and grandfather moved in as well. We had 5 generations living under one roof! That was a beautifully chaotic adventure and knowing what I know now, I have so much respect for what my parents and grandmother did.

Fast forward to age 24. Newly married and pregnant with our first child, I spent several months with my in-laws to help care for my husband’s grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. Fast forward again to about 2009 – Wes and I have two teenagers about to head to college and his mother is diagnosed with cancer. Several years later, my mother is diagnosed with cancer. Several years after that Wes’ stepdad is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and his father is suffering from severe dementia. You can see where this is going right? For the better part of the last 10 years we have been the caregivers. We see it as an honor and privilege to have been able to do that for our parents.

The key to navigating our later years is being proactive about gathering information before we get there and staying engaged once we do. To be sage is to be wise. There is wisdom in taking the time to ask questions, seek solutions and know your options before the need arises.

Each week we will discuss relevant topics of aging with experts who can help us to understand and be better prepared for aging. We’ll also introduce you to some Sage Agers who are totally owning their journeys through life. No topic will be off limits and we will deliver open and honest conversation meant to educate and empower our listeners. Each episode will also be available in video and blog formats.

Whether you are proactively seeking to broaden your own knowledge, a caregiver for a loved one or a professional working in the aging care industry, this podcast is for you. We hope you will join us as we explore and celebrate Sage Aging.