Caregiver Wellness: It’s Up to “U”

Alzheimer's Disease West Palm BeachCaregiver wellness is more than making sure you are physically and emotionally healthy. In fact, research from the “Caregiver Wellness Survey”, a national survey of family and professional caregivers, suggests that there are at least nine important and unique characteristics shared by caregivers who provide the best possible care for themselves while also caring for loved ones.

With these components in mind, the “Caregiver Wellness: U Model” is a conceptual model aimed at empowering you, the caregiver, to take a strength-based approach to improving your wellness and increasing your capacity to care for your loved one.

The nine components of the “Caregiver Wellness: U Model” include social, psychological, physical intellectual, spiritual, occupational and financial wellness, while also incorporating the empowerment and resilience, or flexibility, necessary for you to take charge of your health on a holistic basis.

Rather than look at – and achieve – each wellness factor in order, the components are designed to complement each other and represent a collective whole.  In other words, at the core of this model is the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In addition, caregiver wellness stresses the importance of viewing wellness as an ongoing process – a work in progress. As a caregiver, especially for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, your role is likely to continue to evolve as your loved one’s needs change.  Therefore, you must repeatedly re-evaluate your state of wellness, acknowledge your strengths and keep on working toward the best possible wellness.

Think of the “Caregiver Wellness: U Model” as a puzzle.  Caregiver wellness can be divided into three major sections:  low-level wellness, medium-level wellness and high-level or optimum wellness.  Your ability to finish each section and complete the entire puzzle – optimum wellness – is dependent on the two internal factors of empowerment and resilience, and the one external factor of timely access to resources.

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Low- Level Wellness:  Low-level wellness or caregiver distress is almost always synonymous with significant points in the caregiving cycle, such as when a caregiver is first called on to care for a sick or disabled loved one, crisis situations or care transitions. Low-level wellness is not healthy for you or your loved one.

Although each of the parts to the puzzle is present in the wellness model, none of the pieces connect when a caregivers is in distress.

Low-level wellness will likely continue until you are empowered to ask for and accept help, whether from healthcare professionals, friends or family members. There is no set time frame, however, for you to move from distress to manageable stress (medium-level wellness).

The transition requires workable solutions, access to information and resources, and intervention strategies that you deem helpful,

Medium-Level Stress: The movement from low-level wellness to medium-level wellness or caregiver stress is dependent on your ability to reach out for and accept assistance for you and your loved one, and your willingness to try new approaches to the caregiving situation.  Self-responsibility is in play.

Once a caregiver reaches medium-level wellness, the puzzle pieces representing empowerment and resilience are connected.

The stress that accompanies medium-level wellness may not be immediately relieved until you achieve a level of comfort with interventions and supports.  For example, if a home care is agency is not dependable or there is a sudden change in a loved one’s mental or physical status, you may return to a stressful situation until you once again feel empowered to seek more assistance.

High-Level Wellness:  Once adequate supports for your loved one and yourself are in place, you have the opportunity to move from medium-level wellness to high-level wellness or optimum wellness.  The transition relies on the integration of empowerment, resilience and reaching a point of stability with physical, social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, occupational and financial wellness.

Achieving optimum-level wellness is a process that will take time; it is not recommended that the integration occur at once, nor is it likely to.  The best strategy is to place continuing emphasis on putting together all of the pieces until the puzzle is complete.

Alzheimer's Caregivers  West Palm BeachReprinted with permission from the winter 2012 issue of care ADvantage magazine, a quarterly magazine for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease and related illnesses published by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. For a free subscription, please visitwww.afacareadvantage.org or call (toll-free) 866-232-8484