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Posted: October 27, 2005

Spousal Caregiving

Are You a 'Caregiver Saint'?

Bill Andrew

Have you ever thought of yourself as a "saint" as you go about your daily caregiving activities for your spouse? Most likely not.

But Gordon J. Rafool, M.D., Family Practice and Geriatrics at Gessler Clinic, Winter Haven, Florida, thinks all family caregivers are "saints!" Dr. Rafool presented a program this past Saturday to the Alzheimer's Support Group for which I am the facilitator. I thought it would be appropriate to share some of his insights into family caregiving and his focus on "caring for the caregiver."

According to Dr. Rafool, we caregivers used to be referred to as "caretakers" during the 40's through the early 60's. Obviously, while we "take care" of our loved ones, the term "caretaker" implies something other than giving of yourself for the benefit of your loved one. A "caregiver" gives to, and does not take from, the loved one -- in this case, your spouse.

He likened good caregiving to "nurturing" your loved one -- just as you would "nurture" your children. In fact, Dr. Rafool thinks that this nurturing is the key component to good caregiving.

He went on to describe who caregivers are and what training they typically receive. Caregivers are spouses, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, siblings, and other persons who care -- and they generally do not have any formal training at all. In his opinion, "sissies" need not apply for the job of being a caregiver! This job requires total commitment to taking good care of the loved one, and anything less means that the loved one suffers.

So what should a caregiver do? There is no right way or wrong way -- the job is not defined in black and white. There is only "on the job" training for the caregiver -- much like we all learned when we were raising our children. Dr. Rafool feels that a daily routine -- or, as he called it, a daily ritual -- is very important for both the caregiver and the loved one. He suggested that caregiver education and support were essential for the benefit of both the caregiver and the loved one. We addressed these issues in our column Caregiver Education and Support: What Is Your Score?

According to Dr. Rafool, in his practice he sees many caregivers dying younger than their peers. This early mortality is often the result of stress.

Many caregivers do not respond to stress -- they react. Reducing stress is therefore a key to caregiver coping with stressful situations. The best way to reduce stress is to respond to it by doing something that replaces or offsets that stress. Our columns A Spousal Caregiver's Self-Assessment on Stress and Dealing With Stress, Caregiver-Style dealt with stress control and management issues. The most obvious way of helping to reduce this stress is to have some respite time for yourself as a caregiver. Do you take some time each day to "get away from it all" -- whether 5 or 10 minutes by yourself or by arranging to have someone sit with your spouse for several hours? I do!

Another issue that Dr. Rafool discussed was the placing of our loved ones into a extended care facility (ECF) or assisted living facility (ALF). We must realize that when making this decision, we are not giving up on our loved one but trying to do what is best for them. By making this decision, we are also reducing the stress levels in our daily lives and improving the quality time with our loved one. If we are "stressed out", we can not do what is best for our loved one -- in fact, we may do things that are not in their best interests.

Dr. Rafool and several of his companions spent some time in the Mississippi Gulf area after Hurricane Katrina. Talk about disasters -- this was the "mother" of all disasters to hit the United States. Some of the stories he told were almost unbelievable. I consider him and his companions as candidates for "sainthood" based on their "mission of mercy." He thinks that disaster preparation, when you are a caregiver, is two-fold -- preparing for your loved one and preparing for yourself. We addressed some of those issues in our column Are You Prepared for Disaster?

From my personal perspective as a spousal caregiver for over 11 years, I can tell you that taking care of yourself is essential for the well-being of your spouse. This means physically, mentally, spiritually, and nutritionally. I have discussed each of these in some manner, shape, or form in my previous 49 columns. What I do for Carol, I also do for myself -- especially nutritionally. Without me being there for her, who would be there? Without you being there for your spouse, who would be there? Think about that -- and think about "caring for the caregiver."

While some people might consider me a "saint" because of my commitment to providing quality care for my spouse, I think of myself as only keeping the vows that I made when Carol and I were married -- "in sickness and in health, 'till death do us part." However, if my spousal caregiving commitment is an example for others, so be it -- I will accept "sainthood" anytime while I am here on earth if it helps me to attain Heaven in the hereafter.

If that is the case, then I am a "caregiver saint" -- how about you?

WORDS TO CARE BY . . .

"To all God's beloved  . . . who are called to be saints."

(Romans 1:7)


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.
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