How Caring for Others Makes You Stronger, Wiser, Healthier

By Melanie Haiken

We’ve all heard the advice: “Every man for himself,” “It’s a “dog-eat-dog world,” or even “Nice guys finish last.” But here’s the surprising truth: Helping others and taking care of loved ones is a much better strategy for success than putting ourselves first. That’s the conclusion of a new wave of research, which is demonstrating that it’s “survival of the kindest,” not “survival of the fittest,” that is most likely to bring us happiness, health, respect, and a strong future.

This is particularly good news for the vast army of caregivers in America (34 million and counting, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control) who provide unpaid care for a family member or friend due to illness, age, or disability. If you’re a caregiver, you know that your efforts often go unrecognized, unacknowledged, even unthanked. But did you also know that when you act on your instincts to be kind, compassionate, and generous toward others, you’re strengthening yourself, your family, and even society for the future?

 9 Ways Caring for a Parent Is a Special Kind of Care

We’re Wired to Be Kind
Once upon a time, psychologists believed we were wired to be selfish, to look out for ourselves before all else. But according to Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, they got it wrong. “Contemporary neuroscience tells us we have these evolved capacities to care for the vulnerable, to protect those that need protecting,” Keltner says, explaining that kindness is like a muscle that gets stronger with use. “When you really practice it, it’s like an athletic regimen.”

Keltner argues that a key portion of Darwin’s theory of evolution has long been overlooked. Darwin, Keltner and colleagues argue, believed man is inherently “good” and that as a species we’re caring, generous, and social. “Kindness has deep evolutionary roots,” says Keltner, who coined the term “survival of the kindest.”

To promote these ideas, Keltner and colleagues founded U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, which supports ongoing studies into the many ways humans are wired to be compassionate, generous, and supportive toward others.

Rethinking Caregiver Stress

If you’re caring for an aging or ill family member or other loved one, you know that it’s stressful — there’s no question about that. You have a whole host of responsibilities added on top of those you would normally have, so your time and schedule are more pressured. Add to that anxiety and fear about your loved one’s health issues, and you’ve definitely got a recipe for feeling overwhelmed.

There’s a chemical reaction with caregiving. It’s not that simple, Keltner says, because caring for others also releases chemicals in your body and brain that relieve stress and promote good feelings. For example, taking care of others releases the hormone oxytocin, sometimes called the “love” hormone, which makes you feel more relaxed and at ease.

Oxytocin is also known as the “bonding” hormone, and for good reason, because it makes us feel protective and nurturing toward those more vulnerable than we are. “When you reach out to care for someone more vulnerable, some of the best parts of your nervous system are ready to go, to support you in that,” says Keltner.

In fact, the harder and more stressful your life gets, the more likely you are to reach out and help others, an instinct psychologist Shelley Taylor of UCLA calls “tend-and-befriend.” Taylor’s research has shown that in hard times, oxytocin plays a key role in motivating people — particularly women — to reach out and support those more vulnerable than we are, strengthening social networks.

In other words, when the going gets tough, the tough get caring. And when you reach out, you create and strengthen your ties to the friends, family, and community who support you and make your life less stressful. “Stress is the mother of caring, not the other way around,” Keltner says.

Caring for Others Makes Us Healthier and Stronger

Psychologists and sociologists use the term “social capital” to define how close your ties are to family, friends, and community, and there’s no question that the more “social capital” you have, the better your mental and physical health.

Leave a comment

Filed under adult children of aging parents, Alzheimer's Disease, care giving, dementia, elder care raleigh nc, Geriatric Care Management, long term care planning, NC, Raleigh, senior care

Coping with Depression: Signs You Might be in Trouble

When caregivers take on the responsibility of caring for a loved one, we expect our lives to change. What is unexpected, and often goes unnoticed, is the forfeiting of our own well-being in order to become a primary caregiver.

Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer, “Yes,” to any of them, you need assistance. Support groups, your loved one’s social worker, your physician, counseling or therapeutic centers and a number of other community resources can help you in providing greater balance between your caregiving responsibilities and your well-being.

  • Have you stopped communicating with friends you had before you became a caregiver?
  • Do you lack time to participate in activities that make you feel good?
  • Is your caregiving role negatively affecting your personal relationships?
  • Have you failed to have a check-up lately or find you do not follow the doctor’s recommendation for you own health?
  • Does your loved one need, but not have, a monitoring device?
  • Has your loved one become abusive towards you?
  • Have you noticed you are becoming verbally, physically or emotionally abusive to your loved one?
  • Are you drinking or taking drugs to cope with stress or distress?
  • Has your sleeping pattern changed since becoming a caregiver?
  • Do you feel you are not getting enough sleep?
  • Do you refuse to let others assist you, or give your respite, for fear something will happen if you leave you loved one in another’s care?

Raleigh Geriatric Care Management,

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Caregiver Family Checklist

  • The most loving gift a person can give to one’s family is to put your affairs in order before a disaster or medical emergency. To assist in providing that gift, Today’s Caregiver has compiled the following list. The information and documents you should have prepared:
  1. All bank accounts, account numbers and types of accounts and the location of banks.
  2. Insurance Company, policy number, beneficiary as stated on the policies and type of insurance (health, life, long term care, automobile, etc).
  3. Deed and titles to ALL property.
  4. Loan/lien information, who holds them and if there are any death provisions.
  5. Social Security and Medicare numbers.
  6. Military history, affiliations and papers (including discharge papers).
  7. Up-to-date will in a safe place (inform family where the Will is located).
  8. Living Will or other Advanced Directive appropriate to your state of residence.
  9. Durable Power of Attorney.
  10. Instructions for funeral services and burial (if arrangements have been secured, name and location of funeral home.)

from   Raleigh Geriatric Care Management

Leave a comment

Filed under adult children of aging parents, Alzheimer's Disease, care giving, dementia, elder care raleigh nc, Geriatric Care Management, long term care planning, NC, Raleigh, senior care

Beyond Driving with Dignity; The workbook for older drivers and their families

As a way of providing an additional tool for families working with an older driver, Keeping Us Safe has developed the “Beyond Driving with Dignity” workbook.

It was specifically designed to help your family by providing you with a “roadmap to success” in your quest to overcome the challenges of an older driver’s safety. It is designed to be used by families as a tool to meet the demands of a potential problem when you become suspect of the senior driver’s ability to remain a safe driver.

Timely and appropriate use of this workbook and of all available resources will help keep families from making many of the common mistakes encountered by others as you move toward a possible driving retirement for your loved one.

Working through this instrument will help your family make driving-related decisions that are not only in the best interest of the older driver, but simultaneously find themselves in the best interest of highway safety in general. This workbook was designed to be used by your family in the confidence and comfort of your own home, most likely seated right at your family’s kitchen table

Here is the table of contents:

  1. Beyond Driving with Dignity
  2. Introduction
  3. Welcome to “Beyond Driving with Dignity”
  4. How to use this workbook
  5. The Certified “Beyond Driving with Dignity” Professional
  6. Older driver demographics
  7. Initiating driving-related conversations
  8. The Older Driver in Your Family
  9. Understanding an older driver’s fears
  10. Understanding a family’s fears
  11. Working the Plan
  12. Where do we start?
  13. Vision concerns
  14. Hearing concerns
  15. Memory concerns
  16. Reflex and reaction time concerns
  17. Medication concerns
  18. Strength and flexibility concerns
  19. General health concerns
  20. Let’s take a ride
  21. Making Tough Decisions
  22. Coming to a risk-reducing decision
  23. Dimensional Performance Recap
  24. When dementia is making the decisions
  25. Maintaining Independence
  26. Vehicle adaptations
  27. Limit driving, not living
  28. Appendix Title
  29. A note about diabetes and driving
  30. A granddaughter’s essay
  31. Resources
  32. Endnotes and Bibliography

To order inquire at Raleigh Geriatric Care Management,, or email,

Leave a comment

Filed under adult children of aging parents, aging drivers, Alzheimer's Disease, assessments, care giving, dementia, driving retirement, elder care raleigh nc, Geriatric Care Management, Having a conversation, long term care planning, NC, Raleigh, senior care, senior driving, Seniors and driving

Celebrate Social Work Month in North Carolina!

The nation’s largest group of social workers, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), begins its month-long celebration of the profession in March.

Social workers in hospitals, clinics, schools, universities, non-profit and government social service agencies, community centers, corporations, think tanks, elected offices, and numerous private practices will work to remind the public why they joined the profession in a campaign called “All People Matter.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social work continues to be a fast-growing occupation in the United States.  More than 600,000 social work college graduates hold social work positions, and an additional 130,000 people are employed as community and social service managers.

As the country addresses issues of growing income inequality, educational achievement gaps, health care disparities, mental health access, and improved veterans support, social workers in communities across the nation are raising awareness about critical family needs and social injustice.

“I’m proud to belong to a profession that recognizes that all people matter,” says NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW. “The field of social work requires its members to put the ideals of citizenship into action every day.”

To recognize all the ways social workers make a difference, and how they help turn public attention to complex social issues that affect millions of lives, the 2014 Social Work Month campaign will highlight some of the profession’s most accomplished authors, educators, researchers and practice leaders through its 1,000 Experts initiative.

In Raleigh, North Carolina:   Raleigh Geriatric Care Management

Leave a comment

Filed under adult children of aging parents, Adult day care, aging drivers, Aging In Place, Alzheimer's Disease, anxiety and the elderly, assessments, bathing and seniors, care giving, care planning, caregiver burnout, caregiving, caregiving and the holidays, clinical trial studies, dementia, elder care raleigh nc, Geriatric Care Management, long term care planning, NC, Raleigh, senior care

Who’s Most Likely to Feel Caregiver Stress?

~Paula Spencer Scott,

Every caregiver I’ve ever talked to reports some degree of stress. And why not? The compound challenges of worry, crunched time, losses, and all the rest can take a toll on even the most cheerful, resourceful, and healthy person.

But does caregiving actually cause stress? Some surprising new research says no, the real source of the stress lies within the person, not the situation.

After looking at more than 1,200 female caregiving twins, Peter Vitaliano, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Washington, concluded that how stressful caregiving is for you psychologically is more a matter of your genes and your upbringing. Caregiving itself does not cause stress, he says. This new studyappears in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Who’s most at risk, according to this research? People who:

  • Have a history of depression. “Like putting salt in a wound,” says Vitaliano.
  • Grew up with parents who showed a lot of avoidance and fear in response to big stressors (like losing a job).
  • Lack resources to help them cope, like social support and finances.

The study also found that caregiving can cause anxiety, which is in turn linked to depression.

This all may sound like splitting hairs. Though this research confirms Vitaliano’s earlier work debunking a causal connection between caregiving and stress, it flies a bit in the face of many, many other studies that link them. There’s even a name for it: caregiver stress syndrome.

This study didn’t specifically look at Alzheimer’s caregiving, whose duration and unique challenges can wear down even the best-adjusted family member. I wonder, would the results look different?

Bottom line: It doesn’t strike me as terribly helpful to be told your stress is the fault of your genes or your family history. If you’re feeling it, you’re feeling it. It’s nobody’s fault — the real question is what to do about it.

File this info in the nice-to-know category. Then go hide in the bathroom for a little deep breathing, a few bites of dark chocolate, and a wish for some respite time to come your way this week.

Leave a comment

Filed under adult children of aging parents, Alzheimer's Disease, care giving, care planning, caregiver burnout, caregiving, dementia, elder care raleigh nc, Geriatric Care Management, long term care planning, NC, Raleigh, respite, Sandwich Generation, senior care, support groups

Respite Care Spells Relief for Stressed Out Caregivers

By Peter Ganther

Caregivers who take care of someone in their home must deal with the needs of their loved one 24 hours a day. Most are reluctant to ask for help—even from siblings and other relatives—so they end up carrying the burden all by themselves. Sometimes the stress level reaches the boiling point. The only way to keep this stress from debilitating you, the caregiver, is for you to catch a break. Respite care might just be the relief you need.

Respite care provides a temporary relief to the primary caregiver from the rigors of continuous care. It is not meant to replace any specialized services; it is similar to a babysitting service. This temporary relief can be on a regular, as needed, or emergency basis. Think of it as an integral part of your overall support system.

Personal hygiene tasks, housekeeping, companionship, meals, and daily living activities would all fall under the title of respite care; skilled nursing services and medication disbursement would not. The caregiver and the respite care provider will get together and discuss the type, frequency, and lengthy of care given. Respite care may be a few hours a week, a weekend, or even longer for vacations. Whatever the case may be, it needs to be arranged at least three to five days in advance.

Respite care providers can come to your home, your loved one can go to their home, or they can meet somewhere else like an adult day care center. All respite caregivers are trained in dealing with people with disabilities, but medical and behavioral problems may require specialized caregivers. The cost of respite care is based on annual income.

Respite care can provide the primary caregiver with time to do grocery shopping, go away for a weekend, or even take a much-needed vacation. To quote an American icon, “It’s a good thing.” We can’t do this all by ourselves, we need to set up a system of support and rely on it. If you don’t get a break every so often you may be the next person receiving care.

Leave a comment

Filed under adult children of aging parents, Adult day care, Alzheimer's Disease, care giving, caregiver burnout, caregiving, dementia, elder care raleigh nc, employee stress, Geriatric Care Management, long term care planning, NC, Raleigh, respite, Sandwich Generation, senior care