Hope for living, loving and caring with no regrets!

Ep 22 Michele Howe

Episode 53

This week, Rayna Neises, your host, talks with Dr. Aaron Blight.  Dr. Blight is the author of “When Caregiving Calls: Guidance as You Care for a Parent, Spouse, or Aging Relative.”  He is also the founder of a consulting firm dedicated to those who care for the aging population.  In addition to his professional knowledge and expertise, he draws from his firsthand experience as a family caregiver for his mother-in-law.  The following insights are shared:

  • A transition to family caregiver can happen suddenly due to an accident or unexpected diagnosis. However, it can also happen gradually over time as you begin to perform more and more tasks and eventually realize that the relationship has changed.
  • Although everyone has their own individual caregiver journey, there are common challenges and experiences that they all experience.
  • Caregiving by its very nature is reactive, but there are things that you can do that will make the situation better and easier for both you and your loved one.
  • Reflection questions can help the family caregiver to think about things that they would rather not and to apply examples from other’s situations to their own journey.
  • Two ways for family caregivers to get help:
    • outsource tasks to provide needed respite
    • self-care
  • Both are important so that you can be your best self and be effective in the caregiving role.
  • Participating in virtual family caregiver workshops can provide some anonymity and allow for some raw honesty to come through.
  • We pay for competent care, but we yearn for people who are mindful of our humanity and who can provide compassion and empathy as well.

Transcript

*Transcript is an actual recount of the live conversation

Rayna Neises: 

Welcome to A Season of Caring Podcast, where there’s hope for living, loving, and caring with no regrets. This is Rayna Neises, your host, and today we have special guest Dr. Aaron Blight. Dr. Blight is an author of a new book. When Caregiving Calls :Guidance as You Care for a Parent Spouse or Aging Relative. Dr. Blight is the founder of Caregiving Kinetics, a consulting firm dedicated to those who care for the aging population. He’s served as a family caregiver, home care company owner, caregiving scholar, and leader at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Thank you so much for joining us today. I’m just so glad to have you here.

Aaron Blight: 

Well, thank you Rayna for having me. I’m delighted to be here with you.

Rayna Neises: 

You have such an amazing background, you have so many different sides of the caregiving. I know that personal caregiving is a component of that. So tell us a little bit about how caregiving entered your life.

Aaron Blight: 

Well, I was working, as you said, at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, I was in the federal Medicaid program. This is going back a ways over 20 years and I was actually writing National Health Care Policy for Elderly and Disabled People but if I’m being honest, I didn’t really understand much about what it meant to be elderly or disabled. I was 29 years old myself and had a young growing family. And my mother-in-law who was only 59 years old, she started seeing lights. And thought she should get that checked out. So she went to the doctor and they told her that she had a brain tumor, the size of a golf ball, and that it needed to be removed immediately for her to have any life left. And if she survived the brain surgery, she might live for six to nine months. So pretty much overnight after that diagnosis our lives changed and we became family caregivers instantly. We were not really prepared for that. If I’m being honest with you, Rayna, but that’s how caregiving entered our lives.

Rayna Neises: 

I think most people who are listening probably never imagined they would be a family caregiver. It’s only logical eventually we’re going to need help as we age. Right? But those events happen, whether they be an accident or a diagnosis, it’s tough.

Aaron Blight: 

Yes. A lot of family caregivers don’t really think about it before it is staring right at their face. It could happen as you said, as an accident or just overnight with a horrific diagnosis, as in the case of my mother-in-law. But also, it just kind of creeps in to the family relationship and almost imperceptibly at first. You may not even really think about what you’re doing and how the tasks that you’re performing for your loved one are changing and are taking on more of a caregiving orientation than what you used to do in the relationship. And then one day, and those kinds of incremental cases, you kind of come to the realization that, Oh my gosh, My relationship is different. I’m a caregiver now for my loved one.

Rayna Neises: 

I agree. And I think sometimes people don’t even get that realization. They don’t put on that hat and say, I am doing caregiving job. And that’s where I think the juggle of being daughter, son, son-in-law whatever is different. Whenever you realize you are doing caregiving tasks versus being that other role. And I think that’s so important as our listeners are thinking about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. I think taking on that caregiver hat really can make a difference because it does give ourselves permission to realize that we need self care to so many things that come into play as a caregiver. I know with your new book, you just released that there’s some personal stories in there as well. So tell us a little bit about your book and how you came to write that.

Aaron Blight: 

I had the opportunity to sell my home care company a few years ago. And I decided at that point, that what I wanted to do was continue to support and help family caregivers and professional caregivers. So I created Caregiving Kinetics and went out and started speaking to groups about caregiving and my new book, When Caregiving Calls: Guidance as You Care for a Parent, Spouse or Aging Relative is a way to reach out to family caregivers in particular, to help them through the many challenges that they face. I’ve worked with thousands of family caregivers over the years. And I’ve seen that there are a lot of very common challenges and experiences that they go through. Although everybody has their own individual journey. There are things that we can learn and lessons that can be provided that sort of cut across all of the different situations. So the book touches on 18 different topics, all of which are related to family caregiving. And the family caregiver has the opportunity to read through those chapters. And then also at the end of each chapter, there are questions for reflection, which are designed to prompt the family caregiver, to think about their individual caregiving journey and do some self discovery. So that they can figure out how to best approach their caregiving role and be more proactive and effective in the future. I think that caregiving by its very nature is reactive, but there are things that you can do that will make the situation better and easier for both you and your loved one.

Rayna Neises: 

Such a good point. I love how you say that. Cause I talk about being intentional all the time, but that’s the opposite of reactive is being intentional and that does make the journey more, what you need it to be. Being intentional about what you’re doing. And I love the reflective questions, because like you said, I think hearing other people’s stories, that’s what this podcast is about, is being able to understand what other people’s journey looks like. But then being able to apply that to my journey, what did they do? How did they do it? Now what does that look like for me? Because there is no one size fits all for sure in caregiving.

Aaron Blight: 

Absolutely not. There is no one size fits all. One of the early readers of when caregiving calls. I was talking to her, she’s a family caregiver. And she said to me, I liked the questions for reflection, but I didn’t like the questions for reflection. And I said, well, what do you mean? And she goes, well, I think that there were things that I just did not want to think about, but I know. That I had to think about those things. So they were good. So those questions were good. She really summed up the reason that the questions for reflection are in When Caregiving Calls. And I think they’re one of the defining aspects of the book. I think a lot of times family caregivers, themselves have access to the best solutions to their caregiving challenges, but they just need to have someone ask them the right questions.

Rayna Neises: 

It’s such an important point, we can’t really ask ourselves those questions very well because we’re so close in it. We’re in the middle of it that having someone else to be able to ask those questions of us is invaluable.

Aaron Blight: 

Sometimes, I think family caregivers, don’t even really know the questions to ask because they’re so enmeshed in it. And they’re so unfamiliar with the whole experience of caregiving. It can be very disorienting and confusing and you don’t really know what’s next. Or how to best approach a challenge with your loved one. So those questions I think can be very insightful and thought provoking.

Rayna Neises: 

That’s great. So what would you say is one of the important pieces of advice that you would give family caregivers who are listening today?

Aaron Blight: 

One thing I would say to family caregivers is that you don’t have to go through this alone. Family caregiving can be a very isolating endeavor. It can be a lonely road and you can get help. There are really two different ways of getting help. One is by outsourcing some of the tasks of caregiving so that other people are providing you with some very necessary relief. And those other care providers could be family members. They could be friends or neighbors, or they could be formal care providers, but giving yourself some respite from the tasks of caregiving can do a lot as far as just rejuvenating your soul. The second thing that I would say as far as getting help is self care, as you said earlier Rayna. That you need to recognize that you have to take care of yourself and if you ignore your own needs in order to provide care for your loved one, you’re going to be failing yourself and you’re not going to be as effective in the caregiving role. And you’re not going to be happy. You’re going to be suffering, whether that’s physically or emotionally, mentally, spiritually, all of the above caregiving takes a heavy toll. And it’s important for you to recharge your batteries. And to do the things that you need to do to restore your energy and your commitment to your loved one When Caregiving Calls, it helps to guide the family caregiver through that a little bit.

Rayna Neises: 

So many times, as caregivers, we just assume we’re the only one who can meet our live one’s needs. And so we don’t look outside of ourselves to build our team. And I love that you really summarized, you can have paid help, but you can also have other family members, but there’s lots of ways to build that team and get the support that you need. And I do think we hear the word respite and we kind of think, Oh, whatever, I don’t have time for that. But it’s so true that if we don’t take time for it, we can’t be our best self. We can’t be our best caregiver and we do end up finding almost resentment.I think. After the season’s over or in the thick of the season, because we really haven’t taken care of ourselves. I love that, in your book, not only will you be able to talk about how to look for help and build that team, but then those reflective questions have to be really helpful.

Aaron Blight: 

Absolutely. Yeah, I agree.

Rayna Neises: 

Tell us a little bit more about Caregiving Kinetics and what you do with your speaking and consulting?

Aaron Blight: 

I speak to groups about caregiving all over the country I was doing before COVID hit. I was doing that quite a bit out in person, but because of COVID, I’ve been able to pivot and do online virtual presentations. And somebody asked me recently, how’s that going? And I find that, especially with, with family caregiver groups, when you’re face to face and in person, you have the opportunity to, ask some questions, facilitate some dialogue and maybe dig a little bit deeper with the caregiver that’s in front of you. Like maybe I would ask a question and get, get an initial response from, from the family caregiver. And then say, well, tell us a little bit more about that. By sort of peeling back the layers of the onion, you can really get some profound insights. And I thought that by going virtually, that that might be impeded a little bit just by the technology, the inability to be face-to-face. But what I found Rayna, is that in these virtual family caregiver workshops, By asking a question online through, through zoom or through the chat, we invite the family caregivers to provide their responses. And it seems like especially using the chat, there’s a greater participation. And so there’s actually more breadth of responses from the family caregivers. And for example, one of the things that I ask in a family caregiver workshop is I use the metaphor of a play and we talk about roles in a play and, being an actor, an actress, and I invite them to come up with the title of the script, if their caregiving journey was a play. What would be the title of that script? And so the family caregivers, they think about that for a minute and then they’ll just type it in the chat. And, so you end up with 10 or 15 or 20 different script titles and just by reading those it’s profound to see the experiences that family caregivers are going through to hear these heartfelt answers. And there’s, there’s a lot of power in that. I don’t think having said that, I don’t think that, you know, with the technology that you can really get as deep with an individual family caregiver, but you can definitely get broader. And so I’m finding that each approach has its own advantages and disadvantages, but the virtual family caregiver workshops are very rewarding. And I think helpful for family caregivers.

Rayna Neises: 

I agree. I think this season of COVID keeps us home more. And so as a family caregiver when you’re home, you’re feeling responsible. So sometimes they get pulled away probably more than they would if they had come out to see you. But I also think there’s a little bit more of anonymity. And so the honesty can also be a benefit.

Aaron Blight: 

I agree with you. I think that that raw honesty comes through in these virtual sessions. And I also think that we might have a little bit more of a participation rate with family caregivers, because they’re at home. They don’t have to necessarily leave their loved one in order to go somewhere for a workshop. They can just do it from their family room. And so, they’re good and they’re good and bad things, I think to it.

Rayna Neises: 

For sure. So how do we find out more about what workshops you’re offering?

Aaron Blight: 

You can visit my website, which is CaregivingKinetics.com. And I’m always willing to talk to someone who is interested in having me work with their particular caregiver support group or to have a virtual or in-person presentation in their area. I would welcome that opportunity.

Rayna Neises: 

That’s great. So consulting, tell us a little bit about what kind of consulting you do?

Aaron Blight: 

I work with care organizations, whether that’s home care companies or assisted living facilities, nursing homes, continuing care, retirement communities, any organization that employs a front line staff. And this would include doctors and nurses, hospital organizations or skilled home health care providers. And I try to frame the care experience and offer some tips for building caregiver resilience. You know, when you’re in a professional caregiving role that also can take a toll on you. And there are some tips and pointers that are grounded in research that I try to offer in training and workshops for these organizations. You can learn a little bit about those workshops also on my website, CaregivingKinetics.com.

Rayna Neises: 

As we’re family caregivers we also have those professional people that are interacting with our loved one and getting the right training for them and getting the support that they need in their environment also leads for a better experience for us and our loved ones. So it’s such an important thing to be offering.

Aaron Blight: 

Yeah, thank you. And you know, I think that in the world of care organizations, there’s, there’s a lot of focus. Almost all of the focus is on the skills of caregiving that the technical aspects of caregiving rightfully so you, you want a competent workforce that can deliver and meet the needs of all of the patients and the care receivers that are out there. But there was very little focus on the social dimensions of what it means to be a caregiver in a professional organization. And that’s really what I focus on the social dynamics of being a professional caregiver. And as you understand more what’s happening socially and relationally in the giving and receiving of care, you’re in a better position to be a more effective professional caregiver.

Rayna Neises: 

So true because the task has to be done, but the emotional need needs to be met as well, and those core needs within us as people are there no matter what our age is or even her ability. And so those basic dignity, respect, relational needs are just huge. And I think sometimes we, as family members can even lose that because we’re focused on the task, but even more so when that’s your job and that’s not your dad or your daughter or whoever you’re caring for.

Aaron Blight: 

I like to say that when it comes to care, we pay for competence. You know, we pay for, for competent care, but we always yearn for compassion. So even in the delivery of competent care, we still want compassionate people who are mindful of our humanity, and can provide us with that type of compassion and empathy.

Rayna Neises: 

And we can find that connection with whoever we’re caring for we just have to look for it. That’s such a good point that compassion is so important. Well, Dr. Blight, thank you so much for the opportunity to visit with you today and listeners definitely take a look at When Caregiving Calls, full of great resources for you and that next step of reflection to really consider where you are in your process. And if there are things that you need to grow in or learn more about, I think it will be a great tool.

Aaron Blight: 

Thank you Rayna. It’s been a pleasure talking with you today.

Rayna Neises: 

Just a reminder, A Season of Caring Podcast is created for the encouragement of family caregivers. If you have medical, financial, or legal questions, please contact your local professionals and take heart in your season of caring.

*Transcript is an actual recount of the live conversation

Dr. Aaron Blight

Dr. Aaron Blight

Dr. Aaron Blight, Ed.D., is the author of a new book, When Caregiving Calls: Guidance as You Care for a Parent, Spouse, or Aging Relative, which was just released in Oct. 2020.

Dr. Blight is the Founder of Caregiving Kinetics, a consulting firm dedicated to those who care for the aging population. He has served as a family caregiver, home care company owner, caregiving scholar, and leader at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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Meet Your Host

Rayna Neises, ACC

Your Host

Author of No Regrets: Hope for Your Caregiving Season, ICF Certified Coach, Podcast Host & Speaker, offering encouragement, support, and resources to those who are in a Season of Caring for Aging Parents.

Her passion is for those caring and their parents, that they might be seen, not forgotten & cared for, not neglected

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4 Things you need to know as you begin your season of caring

4 Things you need to know as you begin your season of caring

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