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Caregivers and Resilience

Is there a connection between the happiness of caregivers and their resilience? Resilience is “the ability to cope with life’s frustrations without falling apart.” If you are content serving as a caregiver despite the stress of the role, maybe you have a brain that’s better wired for the job.

Caregivers and Resilience

Recent research suggests that a specific part of our brain seems to be responsible for successful stress management. If you are relatively happy serving as a caregiver, perhaps you possess this positive brain attribute. Some people have told me that I’m “earning my wings to heaven.” They say I “must be terribly strong” to look after my mother with dementia. Others appear to believe that I’m a masochist or a nut.  But now I see there’s another possibility: I may have a flexible Ventral Medial Prefrontal Cortex. Who knew?

Caregivers and Resilience + Science

Scientists from Yale have been conducting studies that identify how people respond to sustained stress.They have located a region in our brain called the Ventral Medial Prefrontal Cortex which seems to govern our response to stress. In some people, this area shows high flexibility during sustained stress. Others, however, do not display this type of neural flexibility. Low flexibility participants were more prone to binge drinking and angry outbursts.

During the ten years that my mom’s been sick, I’ve met many caregivers from professional and family settings. Clearly there are some people who enjoy the role. They are kind and caring in the most difficult situations. These caregivers go out of their way to make dementia patients feel safe and valued. On the other hand, there are those who seem to despise the job. These people yell at patients, abandon them in their chair, and neglect their needs. I’ve had a hard time watching this type of caregiver, wondering about the harm they might be doing. Now I believe their behavior may show more than a lack of compassion. Perhaps their wiring doesn’t give them the resilience they need for the job.

Resilience does more than help you survive stress. It also helps us experience happiness. I discovered the Yale study through a Tweet from Emma Seppala. She does research on the links between happiness, compassion and success. If caregiving expands your sense of compassion, perhaps you can use this quality to increase your overall success in life. Next week’s post will offer ideas that are especially relevant to this theme.


Lost Income of Caregivers

The lost income of #caregivers is something I didn’t actually experience much ’til now. This summer my work situation went haywire. Instead of enjoying the sunshine, I’m coping with the loss of a job while caring for my mom.

Lost income of caregivers

Where is that pot of gold?

Lost Income of Caregivers

A 2011 MetLife study estimated that #caregivers looking after parents have lost a total of nearly $3 trillion in wages, pension, and Social Security benefits. That’s a staggering amount for any group and, on an individual basis the stress of losing income is tremendous.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have steady employment my whole life. I got my working papers at age sixteen so I could peel potatoes and wash dishes at a catering company. It was hot, exhausting work but I earned enough to buy my own stereo and after that I was hooked on work. In college, I had a job at a laundromat; later I was a waitress. Once I earned my degree, I worked as a counselor and a teacher. I became the director of an education center and finally found my dream job when I launched my freelance writing business 14 years ago.

Writing at home gave me the flexibility I needed to join the growing ranks of working caregivers. The MetLife study claims that, “The proportion of adult children providing personal care and/or financial assistance to a parent has more than tripled over the past 15 years. ” I’ve been able to serve as Mom’s caregiver because I had long term clients that kept my income stable. Things changed suddenly when one of my best clients merged with a large organization.

At the new agency, I completed tech training, new employee orientation, and countless meetings that had little relationship to my work. After six months of employment, the big organization had consumed all the assets I’d helped my little client acquire over 14 years. My job was not included in the budget for the new fiscal year and I was given ONE WEEK’S NOTICE! Their words of consolation: “You can collect unemployment.”

Caregiving Complicates Employment

There’s no doubt that I could recover better from a financial blow like this if I were not caring for my mom. My mother now needs two people to help her go to the bathroom or get into bed. Her condition keeps me tied to the house. I’m networking with colleagues over the phone and doing my best to find business leads. But it’s hard to follow up when you’re always on caregiver duty.

I believe that something new will emerge in the near future and I try not to get caught in a cycle of worry. Fretting just ruins your sleep and adds nothing to your bottom line. Collecting unemployment might help temporarily, but I can’t even do that. My unemployment claim was challenged because I’m a freelancer and the state investigators see that I write for other clients. As a result, I’ve been told that claim examiners need extra time to evaluate my case. Go ahead, be thorough (while my mortgage payment waits!) I just hope those state employees never have to serve as caregivers for their parents. If they do, the first thing they’ll notice — after the huge salary cut — is that there’s no such thing as extra time. In fact, there’s no time for anything at all.