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Taking Care of the Caregivers

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February 05, 2013
Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Josephine Briggs, M.D.

Director
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

View Dr. Briggs's biographical sketch

The U.S. population is a rapidly aging one. In the coming years, many, if not most of us, will face changes and challenges—in our family members, friends, and/or ourselves—related to health problems that occur with aging. These include dementia, which, although not a normal part of aging, is common in very elderly people. One problem that is sometimes overlooked in considering the burdens of dementia is its effects on the health of family members who assume the burdens of care. We are proud to be supporting several studies of interventions that aim to help caregivers.

Last week, I was interested to see results from an NCCAM-co-funded pilot study in a group of family caregivers (n = 39) of dementia patients. Caregivers were assigned either to daily practice of Kirtan Kriya, a brief meditation originating from Kundalini yoga, or to listen to relaxation music for 12 minutes per day for eight weeks. All participants had entered with mild depression; post-intervention, the meditation group had significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms than the control group and more improvement in mental and cognitive functioning. This is a small study, but interventions like this offer promise. This study is a reminder of the need to develop stronger supports for the health, quality-of-life, and coping of people who shoulder the difficult task of care of patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of chronic dementia.

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As a caregiver, the biggest depression eliminator for me has been letting go of my former life, dreams, and goals, and being present in the moment. Thinking about what I lost (my 20-year career, 2 masters degrees which will be irrelevant after a 5+ year employment gap, my investments, my retirement, my child bearing years) was just making me angry. I had to let it go. Now I just think about being fully present where I am. Breathe deeply. Find joy in small things. I know when this journey ends I will long for it. I will long for more time with my mom. The rest of the stuff will work itself out.

Dear Dr. Briggs,I am a Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist and have been involved in Alzheimer’s research ( clinical trials) and have facilitated Caregiver Support Groups for the last 10 years.I’ve been working as a clinician with this population for almost 30 years. Last month I began an online weekly talkradio show called “Caregivers Coast to Coast ” on www.talkstreamradio.com. My goal is to provide a resource as well as an online support venue for caregivers of loved ones with dementia.Needless to say I would absolutely love to interview you for our listeners !!!!Sincerely,Anne Cerullo, PMHCNS-BCSr. Clinical Research CoordinatorRhode Island Mood and Memory Research Institute1018 Waterman aveEast Providence RI 02914 

I really appreciate the efforts that are being made into researching and investigating this area regarding caretakers.  I am a P.A. with 23 years of clinical experience, I have practiced yoga for 14+ years, I practice Kirtan, I am a student of Healing Touch, I am trained in the relaxation response from the Harvard Mind/Body Medicine Institute and I actively work with a therapist as well as participating monthly in a Shaman’s dream circle. None of this prepared me for what happened when I took my mother (who has middle stage dementia) into the care of my home while we transitioned her from her home into a facility.   Prior to her arrival, I met with a care consultant from the Alzheimers association and followed all of their instructions and recommendations.  I consulted with the neuropsychiatrist who evaluated my mother and followed her recommendations.  Although all of the techniques and practices I had under my belt were useful for relatively “low-middle” levels of stress for me as well as her (when she was cooperative), when things became increasingly intense, it became obvious that the only solution was to medicate her and get her into a locked down unit as soon as possible.  I felt like a failure, I still feel like a failure. I thought for sure that all of my expertise as both a health care professional and my personal work had more than adequately prepared me to undertake the care of my mother for a limited time. (I had agreed with my family to take her in for up to three months) Clearly, I have more “work” to do.  Most likely it is about letting go as Rose alluded to above.  In spite of this, I fully support utilizing CAM techniques to support caregivers and applaud NCCAM for investigating this critical area.  Thank you

Dr.Briggs, I recently co-authored the first Guide for male caregivers. In the Guide we urge male caregivers to use their creativity and be open to alteratives like the meditations you listed. I hope you will look at our website, and to Who Says Men Don’t Care? A Man’s Guide To Balanced and Guilt Free Caregiving.

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When we celebrate my wife Edna’s 61st birthday in March, she will have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease just eight years prior. Now in the final stages, literally needing care as a 1 1/2 year old, I have no regrets for making the commitment and sacrifice of keeping her at home. Despite my strong tendency to take this all on by myself, I decided early on to build a team for each essential area of support: medical, legal, direct care, spiritual, and family. For anyone experiencing a similar situation, I suggest surrounding themselves with caring beings, resist the temptation to deny themselves the time needed to recharge and refocus, never refuse the loving kindness of another’s generosity, make the daily commitment to maintaining personal health, and remain grounded in the optimistic hope and grace of a higher being.  

I was referred to this blog by my professor and I am elated to know this blog exists. I am finishing up my masters in counseling with intentions on running support groups for caregivers. I just completed a literature review of are givers and brought the mediation and art therapy aspect into play. I enjoy your study incorporating such techniques. It really does have a lot to do with being present and creating a new story without comparing to how our loved ones used to be.  I am enjoying all the comments :)

I find this so interested.  In an age where medication is the default we turn to for all ailments, I think it’s important to see how other elements can influence state of mind.  Thanks for posting the link to the study!

@Rose, @Darlene, @eWorkinGuy - Thanks for so eloquently sharing your challenging experiences as family caregivers.  We wish you well.

 

It’s also wonderful to hear from the professionals who support caregivers.

Bless those of you who are on this caregiving journey. 

I attended one of NCCAM’s meetings in an ad hoc capacity and am so grateful for the work of your organization. I am a board and staff member of Creative Healing Connections, Inc. [www.creativehealingconnections.org]. We offer arts retreats in the NYS Adirondacks for women surviving chronic illness, for vets and their families, and have this year added a retreat for Caregivers. We have seen incredible results in those who return year after year in our arts retreats and welcome other resources for those who attend our programs. Thank you.

the article is very heplful, most of the people who are depressed still don’t want to admit that thet are suffering from this. you carry out some strong points it the article and i must say this will definitely gonna work, thanks for sharing such an insightful article with us, i love to come again n again for reading your other blogs.http://signsofdepressions.net/

That you so much for this tidbit of information. I work with many elderly patients who are struggling with depression and dementia and it is all too easy to just medicate symptoms vs. trying to use other avenues in conjunction to improve quality of life, mitigate symptoms, and potentially delay further decline. Glad to know that mindfulness and meditation is something that looks promising for even the older generations, and that research like this is continuing to happen. Thanks again!  

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Thanks for your sharing this blog post.I really like this articleThums up!

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