Women's Retirement Radio

Laura Jalbert & Lisa Kaufman - The Caregiver Series Part 3 - Episode 46

December 27, 2021 Russ Thornton Season 2 Episode 30
Women's Retirement Radio
Laura Jalbert & Lisa Kaufman - The Caregiver Series Part 3 - Episode 46
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 3rd 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 address the importance of self-care for the caregiver as well and thoughts on how to deal with a challenging and emotional situation that you almost certainly hadn't planned on...

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, welcome to another episode of Women's Retirement Radio. Today is the third in an ongoing series about caregiving and I am thrilled again to be joined by Lisa Kaufman and Laura Jalbert. Hey ladies, thanks for joining us.

Laura Jalbert:
Yeah, thanks for having us. [crosstalk 00:00:16].

Lisa Kaufman:
Yeah, thanks for having us.

Russ Thornton:
So today we want to kind of continue the conversation around caregiving and specifically the role of caregiving as a spouse. So caring for a spouse that's dealing with dementia, mental impairment, maybe physical, recovering from an injury, whatever the situation may be. And I think it's safe to say that no one... While they can intellectually think about what it might be like to have to care for their spouse, I don't think many people plan for it in terms of like, at age 68 or 73, we planned to have a caregiving experience.

Russ Thornton:
And it can really be a shock to the system, especially if you've done a good job of planning and thinking about your retirement and your retirement years together. So I would love to hear your thoughts on this idea of how do you deal with... and we talked about a little bit in our last segment about this idea of evolution and this ongoing change, this dynamic situation, but how do you make sure or how do you continue to care for yourself while you're caring for your spouse, in this example?

Lisa Kaufman:
Laura, you want to go?

Laura Jalbert:
Sure. So I think one of the first things that you can do together, if possible but certainly on your own, is to acknowledge that this is not what my expectation was. I think that that is very powerful in itself because you are then separating the reality of what your current situation is from the expectation that perhaps you were attached to for a very long time. I know I'm not yet retired, sadly, but I continue to daydream about what retirement will be like, and I think it's significant when you get there and it's not what you plan. And so I think the very first piece of that is to acknowledge it and to look at maybe even some grief around that because most people daydream about what it's like to be retired for a long time before they get there.

Laura Jalbert:
And I think once you get there, there may be some sadness that, oh boy, this is going to be different, some fear. And so I think just stopping and calling it out and taking a look at it is probably a great first step. And like I say, if you can do so with your partner, if they're cognitively intact enough or an illness is not so far progressed that you can have these conversations, I think it's very validating for both partners to be able to say, "Holy cow, we just got one bad hand of poker here and we're going to have to play this through."

Lisa Kaufman:
Agreed.

Laura Jalbert:
So just starting with acknowledgement.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Yeah, I can see that being an important first step and one probably that gets skipped over a lot. And I'd like to add too, by the way, that even if you've got all your financial ducks in a row, whether you've got long-term care insurance in place, or whether you've prepared yourself to handle the financial responsibilities of caregiving, we're talking more about the mental, emotional, psychological impacts, which can, oftentimes, I think be much more impactful than even the financial considerations. So, let's say that the caregiver has acknowledged the situation, maybe they've dealt with some level of grief, how can they... and let's assume, for purposes of this conversation, that you're caring for your spouse who's still at home for the moment, how can you be a supporting caregiver without losing your own personal identity, without losing grips with things that you like to do when you have the time? Your personal interest, hobbies, things like that, any thoughts on that?

Lisa Kaufman:
I have some thoughts. I think that when you become a caregiver and you jump in totality, that that's when you risk losing your own identity. And just like when you're seeing a retirement approaching, if you haven't figured out how you're going to structure your day, retirement isn't going to look the way you maybe thought it would. The days start to run together, it's not unlike what we're all have been experiencing for two years that we're at home and sometimes don't get out of our pajamas or we don't shower, and don't know what day it is, because why bother?

Lisa Kaufman:
You don't want to find yourself in this position of missing out on valuable opportunities because you weren't prepared. And it doesn't mean that you have to over prepare, but having a conversation with your wealth planner, or a therapist, or a friend, or a colleague, somebody. That you can start looking at, I'm going to have this chunk of time, now my responsibilities have changed in whatever way they have, how are you going to adapt to that and to make sure that you still do the things that you like to do? Maybe not as much time, you may not have as much time, but you may have to schedule yourself in there. Put it on your calendar so that you make sure that you get your nails done, if that's important to you, or you bake bread, if that's important to you, or get to see grandchildren. Whatever it is that you feel like you need to do, that needs to be prioritized.

Lisa Kaufman:
You may not have a whole lot of time like you maybe once did, but making sure you still make some time in there once a week, that you get that time for yourself. And that's where the team approach that we talked about in the last episode comes in so handy, so that you have people who know your spouse and know how to take care of your spouse and that they are accepting of that care. Because that's a challenge as well, we can talk about that at a whole other time, when there's nobody else there and the caregiving bond is so strong that they won't allow anyone else to provide care. You don't want to get in that situation because you don't get a break. So you want to set things up for success so that you have some downtime to yourself to do the things that you like to do.

Laura Jalbert:
And I think one of the key components of getting to that place is making sure that you are communicating about what those things are, in communicating to your support system, however small or large, right? Because we were talking about the team, how much of the team have you built for yourself? Well maybe if you are suddenly thrust into caregiver role, you have not yet built much of the team, but if you have extended family, if you have children, grandchildren, those kind of things, I think just communicating with everyone about the needs of the person you are caring for, but also your own needs, and making sure that those are considered a priority by you, but also by everyone. Because I think one of the things that we see is that caregivers then don't fiercely protect that self time. If they started out with some time on their own, it tends to erode away into more caregiving responsibilities and less self care.

Laura Jalbert:
And so I think if you can communicate from the beginning with your support system, that it's really important that I get these walks in or it's really important that I do whatever it is once a week and I'm going to need your help to do it because I may not need it for the first year, but if this were to change and I couldn't leave him or her alone, I would need help. And to start looking at how to protect that time from the very beginning, by communicating with those who are already in your support system.

Lisa Kaufman:
I want to throw an example out there if I may, if we have time.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah, please do.

Lisa Kaufman:
I have seen on occasion where the family caregiver, who has always been the spouse, finally gets to a place where they cannot take care of their loved one at home anymore, which they were late coming to that decision. And when they've placed their loved one, and oftentimes it's a nursing home because it's gone too long, and then they still go every day and do all of the things that the people that they're paying to do... So they're paying for stuff and they're doing it anyway. And then there's resentment and exhaustion and overwhelm and anger and all those other delightful emotions because they're not releasing control because they don't trust that anybody's going to do it the way they would do it. Which is probably true, but it doesn't mean it's not going to get done or that the individual's going to be safe.

Lisa Kaufman:
And I feel like they're giving up their lives by going and sitting in the nursing home and making sure that they fed their husband lunch seven days a week. Okay, well they're safe and cared for, why aren't you doing some of the things you want to be doing? Because they were a caregiver for so long, they've lost that. So it's a slippery slope. And now when you have that care in place, you may not need too many days off in the beginning, but you may get to this point where it's beyond what you're physically able to do and it's okay to take yourself back when somebody else is providing that level of care.

Laura Jalbert:
Yeah. But you know, I think in that... and I think we may be thinking of the same kinds of clients Lisa, [crosstalk 00:10:38]. In that case, one of the greatest challenges for those caregivers though, is relinquishing that control and getting okay with good enough and not perfect. And also I think those are the same folks who may have lost perspective that they're no longer perfect as caregivers either. They can't do anymore, yet once someone's placed or whatever, and you see them continually also provide care that they're paying for, they sort of disable the community itself from doing what they've paid for. They try to micromanage and control every piece of it and to what end? And to what end? Is their loved one going to get any better care? Are they going to feel any better if lunch was served at 12 o'clock versus 12:10? And so I think that sometimes that relinquishing the control piece requires a lot of support and help. Sometimes more education even about the illness or the disease process, but sometimes that emotional support of just letting that go.

Lisa Kaufman:
Right, I see a therapist for the caregivers being so crucial because they can help them, maybe at times, refine themselves so that they do start and maybe have accountability to do the things that they used to do or want to do, or haven't done. And take more responsibility for their own structured time and their own enjoyment of things instead of continuing to do what they were doing, except it's no longer necessary. And to their own detriment, really.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah, it's interesting before you mentioned the word control, Laura, which I know we talked about in our last segment, that was what was coming to mind for me. And I think the combination of control and emotions, so I've even heard in my family, don't you ever dump me in a nursing home and forget about me. And that's probably the mildest of some of the things that are said along those lines. And so I've got to imagine a huge amount of guilt or shame that comes with putting someone where they need to be, to get the level of care they need, but then relinquishing the responsibility or control to be there because they don't want their patient spouse to feel like they've been abandoned or forgotten or things like that. And I'm not suggesting there's an easy solution for that one, but I've got to imagine that certainly makes things even more tricky in these types of circumstances.

Laura Jalbert:
Well, it really does. And I think one of the things that is important, and I mean certainly that I validate for family caregivers, is that your job is to make sure that they are cared for. And to make sure that they are healthy and safe as best you can. It is not necessarily to provide those things yourself with your own body and mind. And sometimes families really need that permission because they always are forced or mom made them promise to never place. And I don't think that's fair. I don't think that's fair. [crosstalk 00:14:00].

Lisa Kaufman:
That's not a promise that can be kept. You just don't know, so that's a difficult promise. So you may want to shift what the promise is to something that's more reasonable and realistic. And one of the things I used to say in support groups is you will always be the primary caregiver, whether you are the chief Heinie wiper or bath giver, you still get to lose all the sleep. So nobody's going to take that away from you, but you don't have to physically be providing the care. It doesn't diminish your role in any way.

Russ Thornton:
One thing I'd like to touch on, which you both kind of mentioned directly or indirectly in our conversation today is setting expectations and planning ahead. So like Lisa, you mentioned, finally making the decision to put your spouse into a care facility, but maybe having waited too late and it being a nursing home, as opposed to assisted living, or something not quite on that end of the spectrum. Laura, you talked about setting expectations as it relates to control and what kind of care expectations are there, things like that. I think I know the answer to this, but when is it too early to start planning for having these conversations, thinking about how you, or how your spouse wants to be cared for in the event that they find themselves in a situation like this?

Laura Jalbert:
You know, I think it's never too early to have those conversations.

Lisa Kaufman:
[inaudible 00:15:24].

Laura Jalbert:
I mean, yeah-

Russ Thornton:
You would have surprised me if you had said otherwise, but go ahead.

Laura Jalbert:
Yeah, I think it's never too early. I know at least in my life and probably similarly for Lisa, I mean, when you know of a situation or you've learned of a situation, one of the things that I tend to do is to say out loud, "My goodness, if I were in this situation, this is what I would want." But also getting those documents in order that at the bare minimum, tell others what you want and tell which others are supposed to be making the decision. But there's a lot of things that those documents don't cover. And so I think having the conversations and maybe finding other ways to write those things down or to discuss those with your people who are important to you, so that they know because goodness, anyone could have a debilitating car accident any day and would you know what I wanted? Well, I mean, yes, some people would know what I wanted because I've discussed it. But I think anytime that there's a discussion of a particular situation, you could have that conversation.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah.

Lisa Kaufman:
I totally agree with that. I think the thing that I feel like I want to share is that I've run into folks who didn't want to have these discussions for a variety of reasons. Fear based, usually. Fear if they talk about it, it's going to come true. Fear that they're going to hurt somebody's feelings. Just a lot of reasons why people don't want to. And then I've run into folks that the elder doesn't want to have that discussion because they don't want to be a burden on their kids. And then I'm like, hang on a second, not making a decision is a decision. And not planning ahead because you don't want to burden your kids, when everything falls from beneath you, now you're a burden because you didn't have the discussion, you didn't plan, you didn't sign documents, you didn't do any of those things. Now you are a problem.

Lisa Kaufman:
So planning ahead and having these conversations and making sure that people really do know what you want is not where the burden lies. That's just being a responsible, caring, compassionate, good communicator. And these are good things. And while the family may not always want to talk about this stuff, these are fierce conversations, they're important conversations. And seeing that the holidays are coming at up, and I think we mentioned this last week, this is a great time to start gently dabbling in these really serious conversations. And maybe while it's not a crisis, like humor, again, it can be a good place to lighten what it is, instead of waiting till it's a crisis and now we don't know what to do.

Laura Jalbert:
I think so. And also revisiting some of those expectations perhaps, because if you're at the Thanksgiving table and someone says to you, "You're never putting me in a home" I think it's okay to say, "You know what? That may not be realistic."

Lisa Kaufman:
You're not living with me.

Laura Jalbert:
Right. But that may be a time to just float the idea out there that perhaps there's some unrealistic expectations about... Because you can say things like, "Well, do you have long-term care insurance? Well, have you thought about how you're going to pay for the care you do need?" Well, what happens? What happens? I mean, I'm not saying blow up your whole family meal with a nursing home fight, but I am saying if you hear an unrealistic expectation, like "never" or "always", I think it's an important time to just, again, just discuss those expectations and say, "You know, there are sometimes times where it can't be avoided" and just let that be there in the room and just let it sit for a minute. It's okay.

Russ Thornton:
All right, folks, you heard it here from Laura. If you're sitting down for Thanksgiving or your holiday meals with your family, that is the time to hit it between the eyes with the big questions. No, I appreciate both your comments and I agree that coming from a planning profession, it's never too early to plan or have conversations or get things out in the sunlight and just talk about it. So, I think that's a-

Lisa Kaufman:
They're less scary, frankly. I think that people avoid these conversations from fear and then when you start opening up that conversation, suddenly it's not so scary anymore. So I love that you kind of said shed the light on it.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Well, thank you, I think that's a great place to wrap it up today. So I appreciate both Lisa and Laura joining me for this conversation [crosstalk 00:20:29].

Lisa Kaufman:
Thanks Russ.

Laura Jalbert:
Thank you.

Lisa Kaufman:
And I look forward to continuing it in the next segment. So everyone listening, watching, thanks for joining us and we will catch you on the next episode of Women's Retirement Radio.