Women's Retirement Radio

Laura Jalbert & Lisa Kaufman - The Caregiver Series Part 2 - Episode 45

December 20, 2021 Russ Thornton Season 2 Episode 29
Women's Retirement Radio
Laura Jalbert & Lisa Kaufman - The Caregiver Series Part 2 - Episode 45
Show Notes Transcript

A few weeks ago, one of my listeners suggested a series of conversations on what it means for a woman to become a caregiver.

So I'm happy to share the 2nd installment in "The Caregiver Series" with Lisa Kaufman, owner of SeniorCare Options in Atlanta, and Laura Jalbert, owner of Mindful Transitions, also in Atlanta. 

In this conversation, we cover some of the emotional challenges that go hand in hand with becoming a caregiver. These can include grief, sadness, anger, guilt, and even denial.

Get in touch and let me know what you think or if you have any questions.

And thank you for listening.

Visit my website to learn more.

Disclosures

Russ Thornton:
Hey everyone. It's Russ and welcome to another episode of Women's Retirement Radio. Today, excited to bring you the second installment of what we're casually referring to as the Caregiver Series. If you joined us for episode one, I was joined by my friend, Lisa Kaufman, who's here with us again today. And today Lisa and I are excited to be joined by Laura Jalbert, who brings her own experience and unique perspective to this conversation. So welcome Laura.

Laura Jalbert:
Thank you for having me.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Since some folks are hearing this from the first time and meeting you for the first time, why don't you take just a moment and tell us a little bit about who you are and what it is you do?

Laura Jalbert:
Sure. So my name is Laura Jalbert. I am a licensed clinical social worker, also certified in integrated mental health, which means holistic work in the mental health field. My practice is called Mindful Transitions and we work with older adults in their homes and in assisted living communities all around the Metro Atlanta and provide talk therapy on-site for them because we know transportation is a challenge. And so also getting into that home environment helps us see a lot more than you would see in an office setting. So that's what we do. And certainly the mental health perspective on older adults is very unique because there aren't a lot of folks who do what we do. So its very different.

Russ Thornton:
And I'm glad you're here because I think in addition to Lisa, I think you guys each bring a really unique perspective to this discussion and the overall topic of assuming being handed the role of caregiver. Whether that's for a spouse or an aging parent or another loved one family or a friend. So today in this kind of episode of this series, we really wanted to kind of dig a little bit deeper into the emotional aspects of caregiving. And kind of carrying over for our first episode, we're going to I think kind of focus on spousal caregiving. Although everything we're going to talk about could just as easily apply if you're caring for an aging parent or another friend, family, or a loved one. But to kick things off, Laura, why don't you start? And Lisa I invite you to jump in too, what would you say are the biggest emotional challenges facing someone that is in a caregiver role?

Laura Jalbert:
I would say there are a lot of conflicting emotional challenges. I think that there is sometimes just a general emotion overwhelm, which includes a lot of different emotions. But being thrust into a role perhaps that isn't in your natural skillset is one of them. There are lots of people who are not natural born caregivers but are required to become them. And certainly in the realm of being a spousal caregiver, there are just some people who are not natural nurturers. And so with that comes the guilt and all of those things but I think there's emotional overwhelm for sure, with all of the different complexities. I think there's sadness. I think there's grief. I think there's some loss that's related to the way the relationship used to be, the way it's always been. I think there are really complicated partnership dynamics that come out in the spousal caregiving. So it's full of emotional landmines in this spousal caregiving space for sure.

Russ Thornton:
Lisa, anything you would add?

Lisa Kaufman:
I would add anger and denial. I don't know if denial qualifies as a feeling, but kind of, but there's a big piece to that I think. And especially I think it reels its ugly head with a spousal or significant other partnership relationship.

Russ Thornton:
I'll differ to you guys, I would imagine that... And I don't want to get too far off onto a tangent here, but since we're kind of focusing around the spousal caregiving dynamic, I would imagine if it's like a child-parent, if it's a child caring for an aging parent that could introduce a whole different dynamic as it relates to emotions and kind of history and things like that.

Laura Jalbert:
Oh yes.

Lisa Kaufman:
Oh absolutely.

Laura Jalbert:
Oh yes. And if there are multiple siblings even more so because then there's the sibling dynamics as well. Everyone is in agreement or everyone is not in agreement. There's always at least one sibling that's not in agreement many times.

Lisa Kaufman:
They always live in California.

Laura Jalbert:
They do.

Lisa Kaufman:
We're in Georgia for those... Whatever. Yeah. They're across the country.

Laura Jalbert:
I was going to say there's always somebody far away who has the best ideas that everyone here is not doing what they need to do. Then that childhood stuff comes back of mom liked you better and then parenting your parent. And I mean, the dynamics again are just endless and every situation it can be kind of fraught with these dynamics and you just don't know where they'll pop up. So I think the previous question about which emotions, I think it varies from day to day and situation to situation, because all of this stuff pops up just in any given situation.

Russ Thornton:
So I know there's no simple answer to this, but Lisa, why don't you share based on your experience, what's the best way for a caregiver to cope, to acknowledge, to deal with these emotions? Recognizing the fact as Laura has pointed out that they're going to change in ebb and flow from day to day if not moment to moment.

Lisa Kaufman:
That's a loaded question, Russ. Thanks.

Russ Thornton:
You're very welcome.

Lisa Kaufman:
I think... Gosh, how do I answer that? I think there's a couple things you want your own support as the caregiver to think that you don't need your own help and your own team is a mistake or a missed opportunity. You need to build up... And this goes for any stressful situation. You want to make sure that you have your support team in place to help you make decisions, be guidance, support you, offer insights, have your own counselor, have your own friends night out or whatever. And that it takes a team approach to care for somebody who's another adult whose cognition is no longer working properly. It's not a one-on-ones situation where you can do it successfully 24/7. It's exhausting.

Russ Thornton:
And give us an example. I know we touched on this a little bit last time, but give us a little example of who those team members might be. Who that support system could be comprised of.

Lisa Kaufman:
Okay. And I hope this doesn't come across as self-serving, but depending on if the patient in the couple lives at home still, which initially is probably what the case is, is daycare appropriate? So that the caregiver has time to themselves, they can drop them off for adult daycare where they can be safe, fed medicated, cleaned if necessary and engaged in meaningful purposeful activity during part of the day, maybe a couple of days a week so that they can go to the grocery store and not have to hang onto, where did he go? And he's gone and now I'm stressed out and he's in the parking lot wandering around. Or to go get your hair and your nails done. Or for guys, to get a beer with your friend. Whatever it might be that you do to kind of take care of usual business, but also to take care of yourself.

Lisa Kaufman:
So there's caregivers, hiring agency caregivers. I know you can hire privately, but that's a whole different discussion that I don't want to get into right now. But the caregivers are part of the team. A care manager can be part of the team to help you make decisions, find the resources. And having a counselor, a mental health professional, both for that individual if they are still cogent enough to benefit from therapy, but certainly for you as the care provider. A lot of emotions and feelings are going to come up and you are going to need help processing that. It's hard to do that on your own and get out of your own head.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Thank you for that. Laura, anything you would add to Lisa's comments?

Laura Jalbert:
I think I would add support groups, peer support groups. If you can find spousal support groups or support groups that are perhaps geared towards the illness or diagnosis with which you are dealing. Sometimes families will tell me, "We tried a support group and it was depressing. So we didn't want to go back." But I think there is so much value in knowing what's ahead, knowing that you are in a space, I mean, now we're all virtual, but knowing you're in an emotional space where people get it, other people have lived it, in the example of dementia or cognitive impairment, other people's spouses do embarrassing things in public. And what does that feel like to be able to commune with some peers that you didn't know you had. And so while learning what could happen or seeing the future can be frightening, it also can be very uplifting to know I'm not alone. Other people are surviving. Other people may even be thriving through their caregiving.

Laura Jalbert:
And I think it's important to see all facets of that in a caregiver support group. I think the other way I would say for someone to be able to process their emotions is to do a lot of, I mean, certainly I'm biased and I'm going to say you need a therapist, but I also think if you feel like you're not ready for that, or it's too much, it's one more thing, one thing that you could do on your own is focus on gratitude. And you could focus on the gratitude of the moments that are pleasant, the moments that you have and the experience. And there will be times of joy care caregiving and hard moments and you can experience them, but even more importantly, acknowledging them and saying them out loud can sort of take away some of the sting of the moments that are not so pleasant and do not need hours of focus because they were unpleasant.

Laura Jalbert:
So I think those are some things that you can do at home, but I'm always going to recommend support, just more support because people always are feeling like they can't do one more thing or they're sort of in a vacuum and neither of those things are ideal for kind of the long haul of caregiving.

Russ Thornton:
So thank you both for that. A couple things come to mind. I mean, for those listening or watching, we're recording this the week of Thanksgiving. So I think Laura's idea of gratitude is particularly timeful or timely I should say. And the other thing that comes to mind hearing you both talk about support, whether that's professional support or community or peer group support is... I would imagine most people going through a caregiving experience like this, they don't know what they don't know. And so I think talking to, or being around others would help. I don't want to say normalize because that's probably not the right term, but just give you a better perspective outside of your immediate situation, just lets you know that, "Hey, there's other people that are dealing with, coping with some of these same challenges." They might have suggestions or ways to deal with or to process some of these different emotions and feelings and things like that. So I think in this instance more is better when it comes to support people building a team and just giving-

Lisa Kaufman:
It's a learning curve.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah.

Lisa Kaufman:
And the more information... Not to overload yourself, but there is information I don't recommend Googling to your heart's content because it's misleading and one sided. I think it needs to be a conversation rather than just straight up research. But there's a lot of really great resources out there. The Georgia Chapter for the Alzheimer's Association has caregiver groups where they train people how to be good caregivers and how to communicate with somebody who has cognitive deficits. And there's a lot of very specialized training out there that's not... And these things are free, not terribly time and it helps people be better armed to tackle the caregiver burden that is coming their way.

Laura Jalbert:
Well, and I think to your point earlier, something that's really important is as you seek that support and as you do something like a support group or you engage with peers, I think that it forces you ever so gently sometimes, sometimes a little more forcefully out of denial. And I think that that can be scary and fraught with the need for more emotional support. But yeah, then we tend to see people like good Google and obsessively Google. And I don't know that that is ideal for these unique situations that someone may find themselves in. And I think that's where kind of the support group and then the support of professionals who... I mean, this is what we do.

Laura Jalbert:
We've seen Parkinson's before, or this is what we do. We've seen cognitive impairment before. And so we have a better sense of which pieces of the puzzle apply to you and what's helpful. And frankly, we can assess what skills do you need? Do you need the communication patterns and styles, or do you need education on the illness itself? Do you need all of those things? So there are a lot of resources out there but absolutely just sitting and Googling is going to take you probably down all kinds of path that are not a great use of your time.

Lisa Kaufman:
Yeah. I want to interject one thing about denial. One of the things that my team and I had worked on several years ago kind of focusing for that year was really how to deal with and support non-professional family caregivers in denial, and it's really about grief. So this is where having a therapist and being able to tag team with other folks on your caregiving support team to help you look at the grief because people don't want to, it's painful. But being clinicians, that's something that we're skilled to do to help you dabble in your grief a little bit and be supported in that because it does help break through the denial. And it's important because you're missing the boat and things aren't going to happen the way you want them to, if you keep burying your head in the sand.

Laura Jalbert:
Well, and sometimes we see families inadvertently create dangerous situations for their loved ones with the denial. And so I think it is really important.

Lisa Kaufman:
Like driving for example.

Laura Jalbert:
Oh gosh. Yes. Yeah. But that's a really good one because I think there's the question of, well, how do we do this? And we don't want to do this and this is going to be devastating and meanwhile, it's also dangerous. And all of the many pieces that come with that. So I think it really is to have that team where ideas can bounce around because if you hear it from three people on the team, like maybe this is something we need to address at some point, hopefully it sinks in. Hopefully water over a rock a little bit. It starts to go, "Oh yeah, we really do need to look at this." Because yeah, denial can be dangerous

Lisa Kaufman:
Well, the repetition is important. It's just how human brains work. Especially if you are under high stress and as a caregiver you are, your brain is not functioning ideally. I'll just put it that way. The higher the stress, the less your frontal lobe is really working. Your executive functioning skills are impaired. So when several people... you're going to take in information a little bit at a time, if several people come to you with a similar or suggestion or the same suggestion, one person saying it too, you might just not hear it. And then having more people come to you with similar support ideas, maybe one of them is going to hit home and you'll be able to make progress.

Laura Jalbert:
Absolutely. And-

Russ Thornton:
Go ahead, Laura.

Laura Jalbert:
I was just going to say, and I think too by having a variety of ideas in your corner, I think that certainly together, usually a team can come up with a strategy that doesn't feel quite as uncomfortable to begin implementing too. I mean sometimes if it's your only idea or you and one other person trying to figure out how to get dad to stop driving it feels very anxiety provoking. But there's a team of four and we're all on board and we're all looking at the same issue and we're suggesting things that you can say and we're suggesting strategies that you can try and we're suggesting other resources. And now the problem doesn't look so overwhelming because you have solutions coming kind of that touch all the issues.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. A couple of ideas that came to mind hearing both of you describe that process and the support needed and the opportunity for support is... The first one's objectivity. I think there's a lot of relief and maybe even empowerment when you can point to someone else and say that... In this case, Laura said, or Lisa said, and kind of have a united front as opposed to a son or a daughter or a spouse saying, "Here's what I think." And it comes across as more personal, even though it's not intended that way. The other idea or concept that comes to mind is this idea of a compassionate guide. So instead of drinking from the fire hose of Google or WebMD, having someone like one of you to put your arm around them and say, "Given your situation, here's what we need to focus first. Here's what we need to focus next." Kind of giving them a path, as opposed to saying like, "Here's a ton of information. Good luck figuring it out."

Russ Thornton:
So yeah, all great points. We're kind of coming up on our time for this segment. And as you both know, we could probably talk for an hour or two without catching our breath. But one of the questions... So from my amateur perspective, I assume a lot of people like to think that caregiving is kind of this linear process like, "Okay, I deal with the emotions, I get my arms around it, and then things are going to be fine." But I imagine there's different stages of need or decline, whether it's cognitive or even physical where maybe you kind of come to terms, you have your support team and things given the situation feel pretty stable and good. And then maybe things change with the patient or with your spouse or with your aging parent. And that can basically turn things upside down again. So I guess my question to you guys, as we kind of wrap up this segment is kind of this just the new normal, or is this just the first stage of what could be an evolving situation that could last for a significant period of time?

Laura Jalbert:
You want to go Lisa or you want me to go?

Lisa Kaufman:
Yeah. I'm happy to go.

Laura Jalbert:
Okay.

Lisa Kaufman:
One of the things that I tell people quite a bit is that aging is progressive. You don't just stop at a point. All disease processes have a trajectory. Aging, our bodies are not meant to last forever. So things are going to stop working. So yes, you may reach a plateau and things become stable and you're like, "Okay, I've got this." And then something changes. So that's part of why having a team... When everything's stable, that's a great place to be in gratitude, to enjoy the things because you've kind of figured it out. I guess, if you think about the bell curve of life and infants and whatever, new parents who've never had a baby before do not know what they're doing. Things are not working, you're not sleeping, but then you kind of get the handle on it. And you're like, "Oh, okay, this isn't so bad."

Lisa Kaufman:
And then they start walking and it's a game changer. Well, on the other side of this, as people are declining and family steps into caregiving roles, you at first maybe completely overwhelmed and you don't know what you're supposed to do. And then you kind of get your sea legs. You figure it out and have routines and patterns that are effective and then something changes. It could be an illness. It could be an injury, a move. Any transition really takes a chunk out of the cognitive functioning of an individual if they have a pyramid. But just as we age things change, and then you have to adapt and people who are healthy and have good support can adapt. Laura, what do you want to say?

Laura Jalbert:
I was going to say, I think I would really key in on the fact that absolutely everything is going to keep changing. And that the greatest coping strategy for that is somehow getting the ability to roll with the changes and sort of be in the moment with your person so that you can function through the changes. I mean, it's so helpful to have that support system as well, but also just not having the expectation that everything going to be the same all the time, because we don't know when the next decline and new plateau will be physically or cognitively for people. So I think to your point, Russ, about is this like a new normal or? I think that you have to get used to everything changing all the time. Which is not a comfortable place for a lot of folks. And I mean, me included, but certainly the greatest chance of rolling with it and being functional and being as emotionally available as you can, comes from just taking the moment as it comes instead of as you planned it to be.

Lisa Kaufman:
Releasing some expectations which is so hard to do.

Laura Jalbert:
Absolutely. And especially if you're not a natural caregiver, because you just feel like you got it and then something changes. So yeah, it's really working with those expectations and just kind of seeing what you actually have to work with today.

Lisa Kaufman:
And control. You don't have control over this process. And there's a lot of frustration comes when the expectation about control is not met. It's very frustrating. And then a lot of those various emotions start to reel their heads.

Laura Jalbert:
So true.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. I mean I guess if I had to wrap up our conversation today, I would say that people don't like change, but caregiving is all about change. And it's something that is best tackled with support from a team of professionals and or maybe peers through support groups and things like that. So thank you both so much for joining me. This is such a... Again, we went a little bit longer today than I think we had planned to, but I'm so glad that you both were willing to jump on here and contribute to the conversation before we wrap it up today. Laura, Lisa, any final comments?

Laura Jalbert:
No. I just appreciate you creating this forum. I think that it's so important for people to find information in whatever format they need and this could be a great way for people to hear what they need to hear. So I'm just grateful for you for creating this space. So thank you. And thanks for having me on.

Russ Thornton:
Glad to get you Laura.

Lisa Kaufman:
I think the only thing that I'm thinking is try not to lose your sense of humor either because sometimes some really wacky stuff happens. Not that you can laugh about it in the moment, because that's not always appropriate, sometimes it is. But maybe later it helps relieve some of the stress. So keeping your sense of humor can be a good thing.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Well thank you both. I think that's a great place to wrap it up for now. And everyone listening or watching, thanks for joining us. I'm Russ. This has been another episode of Women's Retirement Radio and we will look forward to catching you on the next episode.