Regular readers know I’ve tried many different strategies to manage caregiver stress and learn what helps reduce the overwhelming weight of this job. Last year I participated in a national research project for family caregivers called the L.E.A.F. study. In time for Christmas, I got a year-end report on the study results.
L.E.A.F. stands for Life Enhancing Activities for Family Caregivers. The principal U.S. investigator for the study was Jennifer Merrilees from the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). The study also included ideas drawn from the work of Judith Moskowitz, Ph.D., who is affiliated with the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. Caregivers from all over the country participated in the project through use of Internet meeting software that is a bit like SKYPE. The software allows you to see the person you’re talking with on your computer screen while you complete face-to-face interviews or training.
The L.E.A.F. study asked family caregivers to tune in for weekly sessions during which they answered questions on topics like stress, coping, sleep, and depression. One group of caregivers also engaged in skill-building activities. These sessions were designed to teach behavioral and cognitive practices that could help family caregivers increase the positive feelings they had about their caregiving experience. Training focused on: 1) setting attainable goals, 2) focusing on personal strengths, 3) noticing positive events, and 4) positive reappraisal. This last practice helps caregivers find the silver linings in everyday chaos.
The group of people participating was pretty diverse. Caregivers ranged in age from 48 to 74 years old. The average length of time they have been involved in family caregiving was 4.2 years! Over 87 percent of the caregivers were caring for a spouse.
The summary of study results showed that skill-building activities were more helpful for caregivers than the interviews alone. The sessions helped caregivers in several different areas. Participants showed increases in scores of the positive emotions they felt, and decreases in scores on negative emotions. Caregivers also showed improved scores in assessing their feelings of “burden”, and they had decreased scores in the area of “depression”.
Because study participants showed improvement after completing the skill-building training, these sessions may get distributed to the broader caregiving audience in the future. If you want to give yourself a Christmas present that could improve your quality of life, read more about some of the positive ideas promoted through the study by reading The Art of Joyful Living or look at the work of Judith Moskowitz on issues faced by caregivers of family members with serious illnesses. No matter which you choose, I wish you all a healthy holiday that brings memories to cherish in the years to come.