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James D. Huysman Psy.D., LCSW
James D. Huysman Psy.D., LCSW

It's Family Caregiver Month and Alzheimers Awareness Month

November is about Alzheimer's awareness and family caregivers too.

Happy Family Caregiver Month

Time to Connect

Rosalyn Carter said it best: "There are only four kinds of people in the world—those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers".

A "silver tsunami" is happening around the country and, especially here in South Florida. Caregivers are needed for family members of all ages. So it is extremely important that we celebrate this special month by becoming aware. We can no longer be naïve about the life-threatening challenges that face caregivers who are not taking care of themselves each and every day.

As issues within healthcare reform loom, the group actually responsible for most of our country's actual healthcare is its caregivers. The latest statistics calculate that $400 billion of in-kind care is provided annually by family caregivers. An equally staggering quantification is the fact that a disproportionate number of family and professional caregivers are succumbing before their loved ones and clients. Is it simply incomprehensible? Yes, until you examine and understand the nature of caregiver burnout and particularly the concept of compassion fatigue.

Though I am a psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, nothing prepared me more to deal with the underlying needs of caregivers than being a certified compassion fatigue therapist. For years compassion fatigue was associated with police, fireman, EMT's, clergy - our healing professions, because those jobs have them routinely "running into burning buildings when others are running out."

I noticed many of my patients had that same far away, glazed-over expression, like the burned-out first responders I treated. After speaking to them I found out that they were family caregivers! Their clinical situation mirrored the professional first responders too. After all family caregivers run into their own burning homes, while their family members run out. It was then that I began to call family caregivers "Family First Responders".

Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. A precursor to burnout may be a noticeable changein attitude—from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don't get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are physically or financially able. Compassion fatigue is a more severe form of burnout, occurring when unresolved traumas get triggered through taking care of others and bearing witness to their stories, day in and day out.

Both of these conditions can take many years off the life span of an adult unless they become aware, transform their perspective on their own mind body and spirit and gain energy through the reduction of anxiety.

Burnout and compassion fatigue can lead to depression, addictions, anxiety, GI problems and many other medical and psychological concerns. With the holidays coming up, caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue can turn the festivities into the horror-daze.

If you are a caregiver of someone with a chronic or terminal illness, this is not a time to become a martyr. This is the time to pay special attention to yourself and the needs of your mind, body and soul. Just like the instructions on an airplane, "In the event of an emergency, take your oxygen first."

Celebrate Family Caregiver Month by remembering to give yourself the gift of a healthy life. Caregiving is marathon, not a sprint. It requires that before caregiving you extend care to yourself. Only then will you have the energy and spiritual strength to effectively care for another.

Its Family Caregivers Month

Celebrate November

The wisdom of Mother Teresa, the quintessential caregiving role-model, advised us that "To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it". You can begin celebrating today by: Calling a counselor; reaching out for area resources; finding a best friend; going back to loving a hobby; getting a massage; and meditating.

A loved one with an illness will feel safer and more balanced when the person taking care of them is as well.

About the Author
James D. Huysman Psy.D., LCSW

James D. Huysman, Psy.D., LCSW, is an advocate of integrating behavioral health training into mainstream medicine. He is a certified compassion fatigue therapist who speaks at conferences and with national media.

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