published Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Who'll take care of the care-givers?

The Rev. Buckley Robbins gathers items to take back to his office after a morning service at St. Barnabas Senior Living Services.
The Rev. Buckley Robbins gathers items to take back to his office after a morning service at St. Barnabas Senior Living Services.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

Members of the local Interfaith Roundtable were reminded recently of the energy one must have to take care of a child.

No less energy is required by ministers, chaplains and caregivers in the care of the elderly, they were told at their quarterly meeting.

"Some [caregivers] get so consumed by the demand on their energy, their time," said Dr. David Harr, minister of congregational care at First-Centenary United Methodist Church. "They've determined in their own way how to go about caregiving. That's all they know how to do. Some give up their lives [for it]."

Indeed, 31 percent of caregivers in a 2009 national survey funded by Metlife Foundation in collaboration with AARP said caregiving is highly stressful.

To prevent such stress, according to Carol Burhenn, parish nurse for Trinity Lutheran Church, caregivers must employ self-care strategies to avoid burnout.

"Caregivers often have boundary issues," she said. "Self-caring is not selfish; it recognizes the uniqueness and self-worth of each individual. It makes us better prepared to take care of others.

"You have to determine priorities and make the effort to change behavior in order to improve self-caring. Otherwise, there's no lasting benefit from your break."

The Rev. Buckley Robbins, chaplain at St. Barnabas Senior Living Services, said caregivers may recognize when they need to practice self-care and sometimes they may not.

If they realize they're not thinking straight, getting confused, unexplainably putting on weight or are quick to anger, he said, they may understand they need to practice more self-care.

However, said Robbins, since the changes are not usually sudden, they may not realize them.

In that case, he said, "somebody on the outside has to let them know these things."

In a perfect world, said Harr, the caregiver would know before they reached that point.

"If there is a sense [for a caregiver] that you don't have distance," he said, "that's an indicator you need to look at that -- that you need some self-care."

Burhenn also told members of the Interfaith Roundtable that the tenets of caregiver health were are like those for the average person: building a good relationship with their primary-care physician, eating well, exercising appropriately and getting sufficient sleep.

She suggested caregivers balance personal and professional commitments by saying "no" when appropriate, by asking for help when overwhelmed and by building good relationships with friends and family so they'll be there when help is needed.

Taking time away from the care receiver does not mean you don't love the person, said Robbins.

"You have to take care of yourself in order to be a better caregiver," he said.

A chaplain or minister may endure some of the same stresses as a caregiver, Harr said. In dealing with a patient in a terminal situation, the clergyperson may sense grief or a kind of loss.

"When I recognize that going on in me," he said, "that's where it's important to have small groups, someone I can talk to, someone to be related to on a human basis."

"They're pulled in so many directions," Burhenn said of clergy caregivers. "They're professional [people]. They have to look at the different aspects of their life and make sure they have them in balance. If not, their whole relationship is thrown off kilter, and they're not as able to minister to their congregation."

Unlike many caregivers, Robbins said, clergy have some training in such situations and are aware of the stresses and strains. However, he said, that training may not have equipped them to deal with situations such as siblings bickering about the care of an elder.

What's important, he said, "is keeping in touch with someone. [Other] clergy and family members can help in the determination of how not to get burned out. Support from others is an important thing in this issue."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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