Specialists offer keys to caregiving success

Health & Wellness Section 2014

By Linda Breazeale

MSU Ag Communications


MISSISSIPPI STATE — Caregivers cannot neglect themselves without hurting the quality of service they give those who need them.

Bonnie Carew, assistant Extension professor in food science, nutrition and health promotion at Mississippi State University, said it is appropriate for the MSU Work-Life Balance Committee and Staff Council to sponsor a seminar on caregiving. The Family Care Seminar was held on campus Nov. 19.

“Caregivers are jugglers, whether they work outside the home or not, managing a variety of needs as they offer help to family members, friends or others in their care,” she said.

Carew recommended caregivers be proactive when the situation is manageable to minimize stress and maximize success when needs escalate. Plan in advance and consider the care an aging relative or friend would want if it is needed some day.

“Some conversations can be difficult to initiate, but future or current caregivers should not avoid them. If possible, they need to include other family members or friends in the planning process. If the recipients of care are mentally and physically capable of expressing their wishes, they should be a part of the discussion,” she said. “Consider who will be involved in the planning, set goals, acknowledge concerns and address financial and time issues.”

Carew said listening is the key to the planning process, as the focus is on the person who needs assistance.

“Be straightforward, and as much as possible, let the loved ones make decisions,” she said. “Base every caregiving plan on the wishes and consent of the person receiving care. The goal is for the caregiving plan to work, not for it to be perfect.”

Caregivers should not neglect their own needs as they help others, said Ann Sansing, community health coordinator responsible for leadership of the Master Health Education Volunteer Program for the MSU Extension Service.

Sansing offered some self-care behaviors that can protect the mental and physical health of caregivers.

“Take responsibility for yourself. Look for ways to help your physical and mental well-being. Find time for social activities as well,” she said. “Set realistic expectations for yourself, and do not try to do the impossible. Let go of what cannot be changed.”

Sansing also recommended efforts to communicate effectively with everyone involved in the caregiving process. Be clear, specific and direct, she said, and do not let emotions become overwhelming.

“Failure to identify and address stress leads to numerous avoidable problems and eventually in the reduction in quality of care for those in need,” she said. “Identify and reduce personal stress or it can cause burnout, depression, health issues and relationship problems.”

Sansing said a variety of interest groups can provide the support caregivers need to navigate the challenges.

“Caregivers should thrive, not just survive,” she said.

More information for caregivers or other senior adult concerns, such as social services and resources, is available at http://msucares.com/health/smart_aging/caregiving.html