Saturday 28 October 2017

TV Stars are Caregivers Too - Meet Leeza Gibbons

November is National Caregivers Month and to kick off, I've interviewed TV personality and caregiver activist, Leeza Gibbons. 

Leeza Gibbons is an Emmy Award winner TV personality who has become an important voice for family caregivers. Recognized as a social entrepreneur, Leeza has become one of the leading voices for issues facing family caregivers. When her mother and grandmother were struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, she created what she wished she and her family had and started, Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation. Her training as a journalist united with her compassion and business savvy when she opened the foundation’s signature programs, Leeza’s Place and Leeza’s Care Connection, offering free services for family caregivers encouraging them to call on their courage and summon their strength for the long journey ahead. Leeza lives in Los Angeles with her husband, New York Times Best Selling Author Steven Fenton, and their rescue pup, Biggie.  She has three children, daughter, Leksi and sons Troy and Nate.

1.     Leeza, some readers here in The Caregivers' Living Room will know you from your television career, but they may not be aware your own family caregiving experience. 

A: My caregiving journey began when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1999, and I acted as one of her caretakers up until she passed away. Now, I help provide care for my dad who suffers from heart disease. Throughout my experience with caregiving, I’ve realized that it is certainly a marathon, not a sprint – and in order to make it through the marathon, caregivers need support too.

2.  What kind of support did you find helpful? Do you use technology aids in your caregiving?
As a long distance caregiver for my dad, I constantly worried about him when I couldn’t be nearby, and this only grew worse when we discovered his heart condition. To help ensure his safety and ease our worry, my family and I made the decision to get him a Philips Lifeline medical alert service in case he had an emergency. In the summer of 2015, this technology ended up saving his life when my dad had a heart attack in his own home – it came out of nowhere and he hit the floor. Thankfully, he was wearing his Philips Lifeline, and within seconds the call center dispatched the medical team and gave him the best chance of surviving this life-threatening event. 
3.     How is your work changing the public conversation about caregiving? How can caregivers ourselves be part of that conversation?
A: My work is for all of the courageous caregivers who take care of a loved one day in and day out, and are selflessly offering their time and energy. Caregivers can have multiple people depending on them, and their own feelings are often suppressed until it becomes too much and bubbles over. If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on health, relationships and state of mind. By sharing my own personal experiences with caregiving, I hope to give other caregivers the courage to find their voice and rise above the toxic feelings that drain us. If we are able to shine the light on the struggles family caregivers face, then we can work on building strong systems of support for them and give caregivers toolkits to work through troublesome feelings such as guilt, frustration, resentment and social isolation.
When I first became a caregiver, I was unaware of all of the resources available to make the daily grind a bit easier and my parents safer. Caregivers have so many important tasks – you manage medications, provide transportation, schedule doctor appointments, stock the refrigerator and more.  By spreading the word about technology and other tools that have helped me navigate the caregiving rollercoaster, I hope to help others discover ways to be optimistic in the face of its challenges.  
While the demands of caregiving can be overwhelming, no caregiver should suffer in silence or walk the path alone. I always say you can’t pour from an empty vessel. If caregivers reach out and connect with others and create open lines of communication between those close to them, they will be more likely to bolster themselves physically, emotionally and mentally to go the distance.
4.     What can be accomplished by National Family Caregivers Month and how can family caregivers be involved?

A: Caregivers don’t get nearly as much credit and recognition as they deserve. National Family Caregiver’s Month celebrates the caregiver in all of their glory as the unsung heroes that keep our families and communities so strong. This time is to celebrate their efforts and raise awareness of the many stresses family caregiver’s face, big and small, in order to increase support for them.
I’m proud to be part of the conversation in the fight to help caregivers become more resilient and resourceful. Other caregivers can get involved by simply sharing their story, and what the day in the life of a family caregiver looks like! What do you find as the most rewarding aspect of being a caregiver? Do you sometimes struggle with guilt? Do you feel underappreciated? Share your “caregiver confession” and help drive the conversation. By raising awareness, we can work to lift each other up and help elevate the daily burdens of caregiving.
5.     Tell us about a few of the innovative approaches to self-care that you are most excited about right now.

A: Caregivers spend an average of 20 unpaid hours each week caring for their loved ones, giving their time and attention morning, noon and night to care for others. This level of dedication can crowd out other important areas of life, not to mention add financial pressure into the mix. Caregiver burnout is common due to these added stressors, and can be particularly damaging, considering it is typically a chronic, long-term challenge. Without adequate help or support, the stress of caregiving can leave you vulnerable to a wide range of physical and emotional problems. If you are experiencing symptoms of caregiver burnout, such as feeling run down, having trouble concentrating or neglecting responsibilities, it is time to take action and take care of yourself.
Despite its challenges, caregiving can also be rewarding – However, that light at the end of the tunnel can only be realized with enough stamina and good health. Some self-care approaches I like to use when I see caregiver burnout red-flags appear in my own life include:  
1. Journaling – Unfiltered writing is a powerful tool for releasing any built up frustration or sadness.
2. Physical Activity – it is a powerful stress reliever and mood enhancer! You don’t have to go to the gym or engage in time consuming vigorous exercise. Any way you move counts, whether it is gardening or taking a short walk, and it will help you have more energy with a clear head.
3. Eat healthy and hydrate – A proper diet can have a major impact on your health and wellbeing. Plan out some tasty, easy to prepare meals at the beginning of each week.  Your brain is more than 80% water, if you’re dehydrated, you’re more likely to snap, have sleep challenges and deplete physically.
4. Be open to technology – Technology doesn’t have to be complicated, and in my case, ended up being a life-saver. Medical alert services like Philips Lifeline can help you feel less anxious about your loved one’s safety. 
5. Connect with others – Being isolated can lead to depression and even make you more at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.  Look for others who “get you” through support groups or one of the many free online therapy sites.

6.     How can whole communities better support caregiving families?  

A: Taking on all of the responsibilities of caregiving without assistance is a surefire recipe for caregiver burnout – don’t try to do it all alone, because you’re not alone! However, people won’t know you are struggling unless you speak up and spread the responsibility, and most importantly, are willing to relinquish some control. Enlist friends, neighbors or family that lives nearby to run errands or sit with the care receiver so that you can take a well-deserved break – however short! People usually need some instruction, so you have to tell them, instead of waiting for someone to offer – learning to ask “can you please walk my dog?” or “can you drop off dinner tonight?” is an important skill to develop. It is also helpful to find a friend who you can check in with and who can offer an outside perspective so that you can vent without repercussions.

There are free online “care calendars” which is a great place where you can list your needs and any other information. You can invite your family and friends to join your calendar to see how to help.  There’s a big chance that someone you live near or work with is a caregiver. Wouldn’t it be great if we let all those family first responders know that we appreciate them and we’re here to help?

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