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Caregiving Q&A With Barry Jacobs

Clinical psychologst and family therapist answers your questions about caring for a loved one

Comment From Marian: I am an only child taking care of my 100-year-old mother. Although I have good caregiving assistance, I'm still resentful that I'm left with this responsibility.

It is understandable, Marian, that you are resentful about caregiving. Many family caregivers have similar feelings, though they often feel guilty about having them. I counsel family members that it is normal and expectable to feel ambivalence — positive and negative feelings — about one's caregiving responsibilities. What's key is to distinguish between resenting caregiving and resenting your mother.

See also: 12 resources every caregiver should know about.

I'd ventilate your feelings about caregiving to other caregivers, perhaps at a local caregiver support group or on AARP's online support group, as a way of garnering validation and support. However, if you feel consumed with feelings of resentment toward your mother — and especially if you find yourself taking those feelings out on her — then that's a sign that you need to change the caregiving plan.

That could mean reducing the responsibilities you have by utilizing greater assistance. Or, if your feelings remain intense, it could mean deciding to place her in an assisted living facility or skilled nursing home.

Embracing Mother and daughter in hospital - The emotional side of caregiving

Caregivers become very focused on their loved one's needs and neglect their own needs. Helping yourself will empower you to be able to help your loved one. — Jose L. Pelaez/Corbis

Comment From Pam: I am in my late 50s and have a friend, the same age, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. What is the best thing I can do to help my friend with this disease?

Research finds that people with early-onset dementia find that, as soon as their diagnosis is revealed, other people distance themselves from them. It's wonderful that as a true friend you want to draw closer to her.

Please engage in activities that the two of you normally enjoy. If she has memory problems, please matter-of-factly prompt her. Encourage her to do as much as possible for herself. Reassure her that you enjoy her and want to spend time with her.

Comment From Sharon: I am caregiver for my mom, who is late stage Alzehimer's and does some weird things that I don't understand because she does not talk anymore. She sits and does rocking motions, and also waves her hands? Help.

It is highly frustrating for caregivers when their loved ones with Alzheimer's dementia develop "aphasia" — the inability to use language — or other communication difficulties. How are you to know, Sharon, what your mother wants or needs at any given moment?

There are excellent family education programs offered locally and online by the Alzheimer's Association that help caregivers understand aphasia and other cognitive deficits, as well as how to maximize communication with patients with Alzheimer's.

Your mother's neurologist or primary care physician may also have educational materials and suggestions that would be helpful.

Comment From Saskia: Dear Dr. Jacobs, when I finally have some time for myself I don't know what to do or where to start. I almost feel guilty when I have some time for myself. How do I fix this problem? Best wishes.

Caregivers become very focused on their loved one's needs and neglect their own needs. But taking time to replenish yourself will make it possible for you to sustain yourself through the caregiving years. Helping yourself will empower you to be able to help your loved one.

Comment From Yvette: Are there signs at the onset or early stages of anxiety that can be self-identified?

We all worry, especially if we are providing care to someone who's ill or disabled. The definition of anxiety is worry that is uncontrollable — that is, racing thoughts or nagging concerns that we can't slow down or turn off.

Anxiety frequently interferes with sleep and concentration. In its most extreme forms, it can cause intense physiological reactions, with pounding heart and rapid breathing, that we call a panic attack. If you are having any of these of symptoms, Yvette, then it would be wise to confer with your primary care physician. He or she can make an appropriate diagnosis and offer behavioral treatments (e.g., physical exercise, relaxation modalities, psychotherapy) or medications.

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