September 20, 2017
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Care for yourself! First: Care for yourself!

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
August 25, 2017

As a family caregiver,  there is little recognition, often no pay and more than often the care provider is a daughter or female spouse. Unfortunately, it is very often true that the care provider has abandoned a career in order to meet an immediate family need. Nine times out of 10 – the need is never quite resolved – and here we are - many years later - with no career and no income, save taking care of Mom or Dad’s daily living and supervision needs while utilizing their social security income to make it all work out.

Sometimes this caregiver will hit a wall of desperation and depression. The statistics are sobering. This is why agencies such as Redwood Caregiver Resource Center exist. Yet for some reason funding to these agencies have been cut. Redwood Caregiver Resource Center recently suffered cuts of 70 percent of their budget. Providing care for our elders simply is not a priority for our federal funding awards. Yet somehow – they still service seven counties with a skeleton team of six people.

The advice that one receives from an agency designed to assist and support at home care providers is this: first, care for yourself. The thinking on this is simple; if you are burned out and depressed due to a lack of breaks, or time for friends and activities – you will not be able to be present as a good-quality care provider. To help do this – especially when one is working to run the household on the fumes of a social security award – help in the form of a cash grant for respite care is needed.

Actually, there are those who will say it is mandatory. Why? Because any caregiving spouse between the ages of 66 and 96 will experience significant emotional strain – which means your likelihood of turning this intense stress into an illness that will kill you is 63 percent higher than this same group who are not caregivers. You read that right. 63 percent higher.

This is because of the combinations of loss, prolonged stress and biological age related vulnerabilities. The younger boomers in the same caregiving position deal with trying to still work while undergoing the need to finish raising teens and other situations which lead to increased depression, chronic illness and noticeable declines in the quality of life.

The folks at Redwood Caregiver Resource Center have your back. For an organization running on federal funding fumes – they still manage to provide cash grants for respite care to those who qualify (and there are many, many more who qualify and do not know how to get the needed help). People undergoing the stress and tension of chronic caregiving responsibilities are usually too busy and overwhelmed to practice good self-care in tandem with quality preventive health care.

These family caregivers become far more likely to self-medicate with alcohol, drugs and tobacco. More often than not – a family care-giver can’t stay in bed when they are sick. I mean – mom still has to use the toilet, right? Time for exercise gets lost along with sound sleeping cycles accompanied by a decline in healthy eating habits. This situation is due to exhaustion and it is all too commonplace.

Redwood Caregivers Resource Center provides any family caregiver with the resources to accomplish self-help. Support groups are a critical part of getting the emotional and real-time awareness of what will alleviate the sickness-related-to-stress that must be countered. We can only change ourselves and how we respond to our situation. We can never change anyone else, or how they respond to us.      

Identify personal barriers

 Constructive communication can become a life-changer. Making “I” statements instead of “you” statements goes far to help take the blame out of any communication. “I” feel angry is a far less threatening comment than “you” make me angry. How can anyone else cause you to choose to be angry, after all? Someone with a form of dementia will only sense the anger. Not the underlying reasons, or old-patterned dynamics. 

Anger is triggered by a mental perception. It is triggered by a mental judgement of the “other” having some kind of negative effect on you – yet you are the one who needs to remove the trigger internally that causes anger to flare into the conversation. Especially if the cause is an old relationship dynamic with a parent under the collapse of mental functioning due to Alzheimer’s or dementia or another mind-altering/degenerative illness.

Old communication dynamics are a critical aspect of parent-child communication and when the parent becomes very child-like and needy, the child -regardless of age- can harbor resentments that lead to the triggered release of pent-up anger.

This is all too common, and everyone realizes that a respite care provider, or a trained and competent caregiver will not have any of those dynamics going on with the parent – which is why having unrelated companions who can provide personal care and supervision are more often than not – a better choice for the care and well-being of the parent, especially if these communication and family dynamics are not being properly attended to. Anger and stress are bedfellows. We don’t have one without the other.

 Call your senator, Make a donation

 The solution can be as simple as scheduling a competent, well-trained care giver to come give everyone a break two or three days a week for three or four hours at a time. The cost is offset by longer lifetimes, improved family dynamics and the peace that comes with knowing everyone is doing the best they can – and the quality of daily living goes up exponentially.

If you or anyone in your family system is in this situation: call your senator today - and ask them to advocate for families in need of support. Request funding for family caregivers. Organize a call-party and have everyone you know flood the office with calls. This is how the individual can make a genuine impact on this issue. It is a cultural crisis. We need to take care of each other.


Redwood Caregiver Resource Center

1140 Sonoma Avenue, Suite 1B, Santa Rosa, CA 95405

(707) 542-0282, (800) 834-1636 (regional)

Website: is external), Email: sends e-mail)


Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Solano, and Sonoma Counties

Del Mar Caregiver Resource Center

1537 Pacific Avenue, Suite 300, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

(831) 459-6639, (800) 624-8304

Website: is external), Email: is external)

Facebook(link is external)


Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz Counties

Family Caregiver Alliance / Bay Area Caregiver Resource Center

Statewide Resources Consultant

235 Montgomery Street, Suite 950, San Francisco, CA 94104 (new address as of 11/21/16)

(415) 434-3388, (800) 445-8106 (toll-free)

Website:, Email: sends e-mail)

Facebook(link is external)  Twitter(link is external)

Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara Counties


Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.