The Importance of Caregiver Self-Care

November is National Family Caregivers Month!

November is National Family Caregivers Month! If there was ever a group of people who deserve to be honored and celebrated its family caregivers. 53 million strong family caregivers provide close to $500 billion annually of unpaid care to their loved ones, many times, sacrificing their own ability to earn a paycheck. Becoming a family caregiver is life-changing. And while for many, it brings with it a sense of purpose and meaning, it can also bring personal and financial stress, diminished physical and mental health, and loneliness. As a matter of fact, according to a recent report, Caregiving in the US 2020, presented by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, one in four family caregivers find it difficult to care for their own health. While 23% report caregiving has made their own health worse. There are lots of reasons for the alarming health decline of caregivers. But topping the list, in my opinion, is the lack of self-care practiced by caregivers. And that, my friends, is our topic for this post and episode 31 of the Sage Aging podcast.  If you prefer reading to listening, scroll to the bottom of the page for the full transcript.

My Guest

I invited Dana Mercaldi to the show to discuss the importance of caregiver self-care. Dana Mercaldi serves as the Corporate Director of Sales and Marketing for Mainstay Senior Living, a Lakeland, Florida headquartered Senior Living company that has communities spanning the reach from Tennessee to Tampa.  Dana has been an advocate for seniors and their loved ones since 1988 and holds a degree in Business and Leadership Studies from the University of South Florida. She also happens to be a family caregiver herself.

Why is Self-Care important?

I have a friend who works in the homecare industry who sums up the importance of self-care perfectly. She says “When you travel on a plane and you receive instructions pre-flight, have you noticed that they tell you that in the event that oxygen masks become necessary, put your own mask on first before helping others?” There is a very good reason for that guidance. If you run out of oxygen yourself, you will not be able to help anyone else. Makes sense, right? Well, the same applies to caregivers. Caregivers who pay attention to their own physical and emotional well-being are better equipped to handle the challenges of supporting someone who is unable to care for themselves.

Self-Care Looks Different for Everyone

Self-Care is a term you hear thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean? If you’ve been following me for a while you know I like definitions, so here we go. According to Oxford, self-care is “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” In other words, it is anything that we do, or don’t do, with our own well-being in mind. It’s intentionally focusing on yourself. That can look different for every person. While some may enjoy meditation and mantras as we discussed in episode 30 of Sage Aging, others may prefer biking or lunch with a friend. The bottom line? Do something intentional for yourself on a regular basis, even if it is just a five-minute walk around the block or your favorite scented candle and a glass of wine.

Self-Care is not Selfish

When it is your nature to care for others, caring for yourself can feel selfish, but truly, by caring for yourself you give those you care for the gift of a caregiver who is physically and mentally able to deliver the best care possible.

Links and Resources we mentioned
Thanks for listening!

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Transcript
Closed Captioning

The Importance of Caregiver Self-Care – Episode 31

Recorded October 30, 2020

 

SPEAKERS

Host: Liz Craven Guest: Dana Mercaldi

 

Liz Craven  00:00

Are you a caregiver who’s feeling a little bit overwhelmed? Does your own self-care tend to fall at the bottom of the priority list? Have you ever hidden in the bathroom just to get five minutes to yourself? If you’re a caregiver who’s ready to make-self care a priority, then this is the podcast episode for you.

 

Liz Craven  00:32

Welcome to the Sage Aging podcast. I’m your host, Liz Craven. The mission of Sage Aging is to help you connect to information and resources that will empower you to master the aging and caregiving journey. Weekly, I’ll bring you great conversations with industry professionals and others to shed some light on topics of aging and to empower you to take charge of your journey. So grab a cup of coffee, or maybe a cool glass of lemonade, and sit back and relax as we chat. Are you ready? Hit subscribe now and let’s get started.

 

Liz Craven  01:09

Happy National family caregivers month if there was ever a group of people who deserve to be honored and celebrated its family caregivers. 53 million strong family caregivers provide close to $500 billion of unpaid care to their loved ones, many times, sacrificing their own ability to earn a paycheck. Becoming a family caregiver is life-changing. And while for many, it brings with it a sense of purpose and meaning, it can also bring personal and financial stress, diminished physical and mental health, and loneliness. As a matter of fact, according to a recent report, Caregiving in the US 2020, presented by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, one in four family caregivers find it difficult to care for their own health. While 23% report caregiving has made their own health worse. I’ll provide a link to this report in the show notes in the blog post and I encourage you to take a look at it because really it was very eye-opening. There are lots of reasons for the alarming health decline of caregivers. But topping the list, in my opinion, is the lack of self-care practice by caregivers. And that my friends is our topic today. My guest today is Dana Mercaldi. She’s the Corporate Director of Sales and Marketing at Mainstay Senior Living and also has been a family caregiver herself. With a background in-home care. Dana has seen the day to day challenges that family caregivers face. It’s very possible though that Dana may have missed her calling as a stand-up comedian because for those of us who are lucky enough to call Dana friend, we are kept in stitches with her daily adventures through life. She has such a unique ability to embrace every single bit of it with grace and humor. And I’m really excited to share her with you today. For Dana’s bio and contact points, check the show notes or in your favorite podcast app. Or you can check the blog post for Episode 31 at SageAging.us. Welcome to the show, Dana, thanks for joining me to celebrate National Family Caregivers Month.

 

Dana Mercaldi  03:28

Thank you, Liz, I am so excited to be here and to connect with you and hopefully impart some great insight and ideas for the people that listen to your great resource.

 

Liz Craven  03:38

Thank you. Well, you know, before we get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

 

Dana Mercaldi  03:45

Well, it’s interesting. Liz asked me at the beginning of our conversation today if I have ever been a family caregiver, and I am one currently. So I was born and raised here in Lakeland, Florida, where the podcast takes place and where my company is headquartered. So I’m a lifelong native Lakelander as well as several generations before me. So I have lots of family members close by. So in addition to having a career and enjoying what I’ve done with seniors, my entire 30-year span of experience, I’ve had the opportunity to have family members age and require caregiving throughout their journey, as well as support to other family members that live here locally. So I have a local family, live here in Lakeland, and this is a great topic for me as I’ve had history and caregiving, current history of caregiving, and also exercising the crucial element of self-care.

 

Liz Craven  04:47

Well, I’ll tell you what, caregivers are a unique breed, aren’t we? I count myself among them even though my caregiving experiences have been in the past. My father-in-law was the last recipient of our care, and he passed last year. So it’s been just over a year, but over the last, about 12 to 14 years, my husband, Wes, and I have been very involved in caregiving with our parents. And I just know what the day to day is like, I know how important it is to take care of yourself. And along the way, you know, thankfully, I can say I learned from my experiences because the first caregiving round, we didn’t do very good self-care, got a little bit better the second time around. And by the third time, we understood how important that was, and did a pretty good job of that. How about you? How’s that been for you and your caregiving journey?

 

Dana Mercaldi  05:40

I agree. I just feel like when you neglect self-care, it comes on you and fourfold. You have to find the small and the large aspects of self-care, that pour back into yourself is as small as you mentioned, humor. So I find great relief in writing humor and engaging with people in a way that brings lightness to a conversation all the way from a small our, or monthly massage into something bigger, like developing a new hobby or practice that gives you peace of respite could be even something physical, and sometimes both. Maybe it’s emotional, mental, and physical relief and release. So I think it’s so important.

 

Liz Craven  06:31

Well, you obviously understand the importance of it personally. And I’m curious, you’ve had so much interaction with families over the years in your career, do you think you can tell a difference in the caregivers that do practice self-care and those that don’t?

 

Dana Mercaldi  06:47

Absolutely, when we have families that approach us that are in a time of crisis, or they’re in a time of complete exhaustion, we know that they have not had the time or the means, or the respite to take care of themselves, even as the simplest aspect of life, which would be continuous sleep, a good eight hours of rest or less. So just that alone, of having sleep, and rest is so underrated. And there’s a lot of health writing that attributes the things that are shorter lifespans because of it. But when we do approach and see family members come to us in that regard, this is the reason why they are finally coming to see us to have a resource and a run out of all their other ideas or their other mechanisms that they’ve been using to try to piece together a life for one or two people for some time. Conversely, when we have family members that come to us that have already built-in self-care aspects to their day and their evening, for instance, having other family members come in, while they take a short visit to the grocery store, or they’ve taken time to meet up with someone for lunch or go to a support group, or even come in use respite services to have short vacations. There’s definitely a difference in what those conversations look like between the two different sets of people that we encounter.

 

Liz Craven  08:14

I’m sure that there is. You know, it’s funny I frequent a lot of caregiver groups, both on Facebook and Reddit, and a few other places around the internet. And as I was thinking about this topic today, I came across this post from a lady and she was just incensed. You know her husband had said to her something to the effect of how come you never return the phone calls when people call. And so she spent the next several minutes just laying out for him what the day of a caregiver looks like. And it was just she was so frustrated. And so at the end of her rope, because he didn’t understand that while he was resting peacefully and that while he was waiting in the chair for his meal, and all of the things that she did for that for him and for all of the rest of the family, that she just didn’t even have five minutes to herself. And another lady within that post responded that when she goes to the bathroom, she sits on the toilet for an extra five minutes just to get a few minutes alone. And I can totally relate to that. I think we’ve all done that. And sometimes this topic, because of that, makes caregivers even a little bit angry when you bring it up. Because number one, they don’t see a way to find the time in their schedule to take care of themselves. But if they do, then they start to have feelings of guilt. Because that time that they’re using for themselves, they feel selfish, like they should be spending it on the person that they’re caring for.

 

Dana Mercaldi  09:52

Absolutely. And as you’re talking I’m thinking, remember back when we had small children? The burden doesn’t change. It just continues on through life’s path. But I remember that as a young mother. And then I see it now in the families that we assist in, in my own loved ones as well. So it doesn’t change. And the overwhelming part of it is that if you do have the five minutes, that’s really, the last thing you think you can encounter is picking up the phone to connect with someone because it almost feels like it’s robbing them a Precious Mineral time.

 

Liz Craven  10:26

Mm hmm. That is so true. Last week, we actually started a discussion about self-care. And I spoke with Sherrianna Boyle, who authored a book called Emotional Detox. And we talked about how, in 10 to 15 minutes a day, you can create a more balanced mental state, using self-care and meditation and mantras, and really just confronting what are these feelings that I’m feeling but, you know, self-care looks different for everyone. So some people, I think, probably got an awful lot out of that conversation and can move that forward. But not everybody is going to relate to that type of meditation practice and self-care to them might look like taking a walk, or maybe it’s reading a book or a bubble bath, or simply just being in the house alone. So what does self-care mean to you?

 

Dana Mercaldi  11:22

So the biggest aspect of self-care, to me that has been something that I practice throughout my life at different age ranges, has kind of come a new, and I’ve always been an avid bike rider. And I’m not talking about the speed bikes where you wear the helmets, and you click the shoes, and you have a little tiny waist. I’m talking about the comfort bike, and I’ve always had a beach cruiser and I think, even since I was a teenager, but that has translated differently as I’ve aged. And just recently, I’ve gone to a pedal-assist bike. So I still pedal, I’m not eating cheesecake, while I’m riding it, there’s no movement. It just gives me some support and some help as I’m going through the hills because I as you know, I live on some elevation and I’m talking like it’s the bottom of the Appalachian Mountains. But it’s enough to make me miss what my bike used to give me when I was more able-bodied. Now that I’m older and I have that fun, you know, the sidekick of arthritis, this little bit of help, has really given me my freedom back. And that is just something I’ve really enjoyed as a late more so than I have in the last few years just making that slight adjustment.

 

Liz Craven  12:37

So what brought you to biking? Is that something that you always enjoyed? Or is that a new hobby for you?

 

Dana Mercaldi  12:43

Um, I enjoyed it. When I was eight years old, I borrowed my neighbor’s bike. And it was a banana seat bike with big handlebars as some of you can remember those from the 70s

 

Liz Craven  12:53

Yeah, I had one right.

 

Dana Mercaldi  12:56

And I ran away from home. So that was my first biking experience. And the spanking that I got afterward was my second experience. And it was very, it was very short. I just went around the block and you know, a neighbor ratted me out, and then I came back home. So I’ve had a bike ever since then I know I kind of rejuvenated in my teenage years, my best friend and I both got matching beach cruisers and matching Toyota ourselves and we thought we were the jam. Oh man, so I got them and then in my 40s when I was actually when I was marketing and farming my neighborhood when I was also in real estate, I use that as getting to know my neighbors better and exercise and use it as part of my farming. And then just recently I got fatter and older and more arthritic and I got the pedal assist, which I love.

 

Liz Craven  13:55

I’m going to try one of those someday. For me, I have taken two indoor bicycling, I got one of those fun and fancy Peloton bikes and that is my daily. Yes, I know I drank the Kool-Aid big time but you know in this weird time that we find ourselves in with COVID everywhere. I decided I just didn’t want to make it to the gym and mix my you know my breathing with everybody else’s. I didn’t want to take home what they had to offer. So I decided to build myself a little home gym and that’s where I landed, but it’s been a lot of fun. I’m able to control those hills. So when those hills get too hard, I can always just turn the dial and make them go away.

 

Dana Mercaldi  14:45

So is Allie love your favorite coach on Peloton or do you have another one?

 

Liz Craven  14:50

Oh gosh, she’s one of them. I love her. You know I’ve got my little list of different rides that I like to do for certain purposes. So if I really want To learn something that’s probably going to be Matt Wilpers. He’s incredible. Power zone rides and good endurance stuff. But if I want to laugh my butt off and get a really hard workout at the same time, it’s Cody Rigsby boo crew all the way he’s, he’s really hilarious. But there are so many good coaches on there. And it’s not just biking. It’s everything from strength classes and yoga and meditation and cardio and biking, it’s all of it. So it’s a pretty incredible app, it’s something that’s not very expensive. The app itself, I want to say, if you don’t have a bike is something like $12 or $13 a month. So it’s a very accessible thing, which would make it a very accessible thing to caregivers who are looking for a way to get more active in their own home without the stress and pressure of being in an environment that would possibly leave you open to bringing a germ back to somebody that you care about. And that is the whole reason that I began my home gym journey as opposed to going out to a gym because I want to protect the people that I interact with who also interact with a lot of seniors on a daily basis. So, you know, that’s kind of where I went with it. But exercise is a very good self-care item. And it doesn’t have to take a long time. Some days, I work out for 10 or 15 minutes and do a quick meditation or really quick little, you know, hand weight, or can of soup, arms workout. Other days, I might work out for an hour and a half. It just depends on what I’m feeling that day.

 

Dana Mercaldi  16:41

Well, when they have a downhill version that you stopped three times to eat a cupcake, let me know. And I’ll jump right on that after you.

 

Liz Craven  16:50

You got it, I am down for a cupcake. Oh my gosh, well, what are the other what are some other things that you really enjoy doing for self-care besides your biking.

 

Dana Mercaldi  17:02

So I know, now that you mentioned how you started to do the indoor bike to keep germs down. You’re You’re right. And that’s what brought me back to biking actually was the quarantine because I’m you know, you can’t see it on the podcast, but I’m a curvy girl. So the gym hasn’t ever really been my thing. Again, because of the no cupcake situation there. And, but I do enjoy restorative yoga. And that is great for someone of any age. And there’s plenty of, you know, studios locally and of course around the country. But that is a great resource because they focus on stretching and meditation, it’s slower, they are offering positions that are very simple to get in, they’re longer-lasting, it’s more a stretch, it’s more of restorative and a rest position. So that is something I love. And since we’re talking about germs and keeping people safe. Most yoga studios also offer a version where you do it, you have a live stream that you do in the safety in the privacy of your own home, which also is really convenient because it’s something that you could probably record or have downloaded. And if the person is a caregiver and their loved one is taking a nap or has gone out for a doctor’s appointment, that’s a great time to offer yourself something like that. So I love and really recommend a restorative yoga session or two.

 

Liz Craven  18:31

I really love that you brought that up because actually one of the next episodes coming for the celebration of national family caregiver month is one about yoga. And the person that I’ll be interviewing does have online streaming resources for people who would like to take advantage of that at home. So that’s going to be a great episode, we’ll talk about more than yoga, but that is coming. So for those of you who have an interest in that, that’ll be a good episode, you’ll want to keep an eye open for that in the next couple of weeks.

 

Liz Craven  19:06

I think that Yoga is great too. I actually went online and ordered myself a great bolster. And I do practice yoga here in my home. And my favorite is restorative yoga because you’re right, the stretching and the breathing and just kind of helping you to come back to center for a few minutes is a really good thing.

 

Dana Mercaldi  19:26

I love that. And I noticed at the beginning of my, you know, the sporadic practice was it also really helped me focus in not that I’m not already a positive person. But it made it makes me and it made me feel the kindness and the lightness that there was still in the world and I love sessions that start off with, you know, give this give the intention to this practice or dedicate this practice to someone. And sometimes it stops me in my tracks because it’s not someone who often readily comes to me And my usual day to day, and they’re really surprising things about yoga that come up that I wasn’t expecting. And I’m always delighted in and boy, you know, not an undervalued practice for sure.

 

Liz Craven  20:16

I agree with that. I took up yoga a couple of years ago. And I also am not one who practices every day or even on any kind of schedule. But when I get back to it, I always ask myself, why have I not been doing this on a regular basis because it really does feed you in a lot of ways that you can’t be fed, in your normal day to day.

 

20:39

Same. And it lasts, it’s more than just the session, which is what caregivers need too.

 

Liz Craven  20:44

Mm hm. So you are one of the best storytellers that I’ve ever known. And whether it’s in person or reading something you’ve written, you have such an uncanny ability to just entertain and to make everything seem larger than life. So tell me about one of your favorite it can be a favorite life story, family story, caregiving story, even Belle’s shopping story, whatever it is that you feel like you want to tell us.

 

Dana Mercaldi  21:20

So I guess one that is sprung to mind that I could actually tell where people could hear it was I remember when Spanx first came out, and I was going to buy some sort of a dress for it was a special event. And I was going to try and corral all this into a piece of plastic. So I got my Spanx and I picked out from the rack. I got my dress, it was about two sizes too small in the belly. And I went to what Macy’s which is now not really a Macy’s in our town. And I went to Macy’s dressing room and they had the louvered doors. So I’m the kind of person that camouflage is the louvered doors. I’ll stick a bunch of other hanging clothes in the louvers because I don’t want anybody to see all of this. So I’ve got an all camouflage heavy with clothes. And I heard through the store, I think I was there like on a Monday afternoon, and just enjoying, you know, living my best life. And I heard a group going through the store, I could tell that there were interns, they were students of some sort in fashion design. So they were going through different departments and they had long past where I was. So I go into the dressing room, I get it all, you know, tucked in. So I got it all strapped up. I got the dress on, and I realized that there was something problem in the dress with me. So I jerked it off a dirt, the dress off, and the Spanx were still on. But I fell well I didn’t fall, I lost the balance and I pushed the door open. And all the students were right in front of me my Spanx roll down as if they were a mini blonde, and my Jelly Belly, all of my bits and pieces were all snapped up in this Spanx. And I could not get up and I had grotesque tennis shoes on. So I’m encapsulated in spandex, all of my jellies are out. I got the worst looking tennis shoes on and I could not get up and the students came to get me up. Oh, my goodness. So when I pulled off the Spanx, it was not in a shape to go back on the rack. I paid for it. And then I left. And I don’t think that I ever went back to that department ever again. Oh, my gosh, did you know that it was recorded?

 

Liz Craven  23:39

It had to be somewhere in those security cameras.

 

Dana Mercaldi  23:44

You know, for training, you know that they used it for training of, you know how not to build a dressing room door.

 

Liz Craven  23:54

Oh, my goodness, thank you for sharing that. That’s great. And, these are the adventures of Dana. You really should write a book or something. Maybe even a YouTube channel would be appropriate for all of your stories because they all leave me in stitches. Thank you for sharing that. You’re so funny. Oh, my goodness. Well, before we leave, do you have any final words of wisdom or sage advice for folks who are listening?

 

Dana Mercaldi  24:27

I do. I would say the things that you’ve been thinking about doing and you put on your vision boards every year that you’re going to do to give yourself a gift to do for others. Do it now make the plans when you listen to this podcast and you’re jotting down notes. Write three things down that you want for yourself just for the end of this year and the beginning of next year. Make the appointments if you have to get a membership or go visit a place or sign up for something or put those shoes on that you haven’t put on a long time. Go walk, don’t wait another day because time is so short.

 

Liz Craven  25:04

What good advice. And you know, that applies to anybody, regardless of their age or stage in life. That’s something that we all need to focus on especially now we’ve had a rough year. And it’s been a year that has forced all of us to get outside of our comfort zones and to confront feelings of stress and fear and all kinds of things that we haven’t had to encounter in this magnitude in a very long time. So turn that around, and make sure that you take care of yourself. I love that advice. Thank you for that.

 

Dana Mercaldi  25:39

Absolutely.

 

Liz Craven  25:41

Thank you all for listening. And thank you for enjoying this conversation with us. I always enjoy my conversations with Dana and I hope you did as well. And I hope what your takeaway was, was that it’s okay to sit still for a few minutes and take a few minutes for yourself, release the seriousness of the day and the situation that you are confronted with because that’s not going away. It’s going to be there. And you need to find a way to be able to take care of yourself in the midst of it. Self Care is not selfish. And that’s something if you’ve ever listened to my podcast before, you’ve heard me say that self-care is not selfish. And I say that because I mean it. If you don’t take good care of yourself, then you can’t take care of the person that you love. And you know that you want to provide the best that you can for them. So taking care of yourself moves from the bottom of the priority list, all the way to the top. Thanks for joining us, Dana, I appreciate you so much.

 

Dana Mercaldi  26:43

You too, Liz, it was a real joy for me.

 

Liz Craven  26:46

And for those of you who are listening, if you would like to contact Dana or learn more about her, I’ll put her bio and her contact points in the show notes or you can find that in the blog post for Episode 31 at Sage aging.us. And if you’re enjoying the podcast, I’d really appreciate it if you would subscribe, follow or leave us a review, and more importantly, share the podcast with a friend. If you have topics you’d like for me to share or guests you’d like for me to invite to the show drop me a line at info at Sageaging.us Thanks 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.