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Posted: October 06, 2005

Spousal Caregiving

First Give Thanks, Then Do No Harm

Bill Andrew

Current research is finding that taking care of tired caregivers could be as important as providing care for their care-recipients. And by simply listing what you, as a spousal caregiver, are grateful for can provide you with the much-needed "tender loving care" that you are providing for your spouse -- and that you are typically not receiving from any other source.

So the question that I have for you is: "How is your 'attitude of gratitude'?"

As we all know, we are often stressed out by the various caregiving activities we perform for our spouses. Jo-Ann Tsang, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology in Baylor University's department of psychology and neuroscience, theorized that something as simple as writing about gratitude will help relieve that stress. Dr. Tsang is also the lead researcher in this study funded by the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love.

Specifically, in order to show the link between gratitude and health, she is analyzing just how gratefulness impacts the lives of men and women who care for loved ones with Alzheimer's disease. "Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Tsang, "is a prime example of unlimited love. There is a lot of sacrifice involved, a lot of cost, and no reward." While her research is focused on Alzheimer's caregivers, the results of that research can be extrapolated to all caregivers -- especially spousal caregivers.

In order to better understand how to help caregivers, Dr. Tsang had half of the research group fill out what she called "gratitude journals" in which the participants listed what they were grateful for each day. The other half of the research group filled out what she called "hardship journals" in which the participants listed the hardships incurred each day. Both groups wrote in their journals for two weeks.

While the data has not been statistically analyzed yet, Dr. Tsang theorizes that those who completed the gratitude journals will have increases in their respective psychological well-being, general health, and life satisfaction. Previous research with college students found that gratitude had improved their physical and cognitive health. Since caregivers are dealing with much more serious issues, an emphasis on gratitude could conceivably help them cope with their daily problems more effectively.

Dr. Tsang is modeling her research after other studies regarding gratitude and well-being that were conducted by Dr. Robert Emmons, professor at the University of California at Davis, and Dr. Michael McCullough, professor at the University of Miami in Florida. Both Emmons and McCullough found that people who kept weekly gratitude journals felt much better about their lives as a whole and were much more optimistic about the upcoming week than people who recorded life's hassles or various neutral life events. According to Dr. Emmons, "gratitude journals increased (people's) awareness of gratitude-provoking circumstances in their lives."

Dr. Tsang thinks that there may be a correlation between gratitude and religion. "The different world religions tell people that they should be grateful, or religious people have more practice being grateful," she said. Therefore, the concept of gratitude journals may help religious caregivers to better provide care for their loved ones.

The Davis campus at the University of California is also conducting a series of experiments that suggest that "counting your blessings leads to improved physical and mental functioning." According to Dr. Robert Emmons, "When people consciously practice grateful living, their happiness will go up and their ability to withstand negative events will improve as does their immunity to anger, envy, resentment, and depression." We wrote about counting blessings in our column When Did You Last Count Your Blessings? (posted July 21, 2005).

An Attitude of Gratitude

As long-time readers of this column know, my focus as a spousal caregiver is on my love for my wife of over 54 years, Carol, and on my prayer life. I have tried to convey those criteria in my columns over the past year since they are what sustain me as a spousal caregiver -- and, hopefully, will also sustain you. While I have not personally kept a written gratitude journal as the above-described research suggests, I have kept an ongoing mental list of things that I am thankful for -- #1 of which is being grateful for having the personal experience of providing quality care for my wife on this long journey called Alzheimer's.

I do have an "attitude of gratitude," and I thank God for this opportunity to demonstrate my undying love for my spouse. Love and prayer keeps me going each day as I dedicate myself to providing for Carol's daily activities of living and personal care. I try to share this attitude of gratitude in various ways – in this column, in facilitating a monthly Alzheimer's Support Group, in my leadership role in Polk County (Florida) Family Caregivers, Inc. (an advocacy group for family caregivers), in my other writings and services that I provide for caregivers, for my family and friends, and in my spiritual life.

I am grateful that God has placed this "obstacle" in my life path and has provided me with the wherewithal to overcome that obstacle. If my "caregiver life story" is an inspiration to other caregivers, then perhaps I have found my "calling" as a caregiver by sharing with you and other caregivers with whom I come in contact. That sharing is my way of spreading the "attitude of gratitude" that may be my legacy.

I have a GREAT "attitude of gratitude" -- how about you?

WORDS TO CARE BY . . .

"…in every way and everywhere,

we accept this with all gratitude."

(Acts 24:3)


Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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