mindful caregiverNancy L. Kriseman, LCSW, is a geriatric social worker with over 30 years of experience working with elders and their caregivers. Her new book is an unusual and comprehensive guide to bringing “mindfulness” to family caregiving, and well worth reading.

When the publishers of Nancy L. Kriseman’s new book “The Mindful Caregiver: Finding Ease in the Caregiving Journey” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014) approached caregivers.com for a review, my first thought was “Caregivers are already ‘mindful.’ We pay close attention every day to detail after detail. The last thing we need is to have to pay more attention.”

My understanding of the word “mindful” was limited to the definition “bearing in mind,” as in “it’s important to be mindful of the needs of others.” Caregivers tend to be hyper-aware of the needs of those around them, often at their own expense. Thus, I opened this book with some reluctance to learn more about being mindful.

I’m glad I overcame my resistance. “The Mindful Caregiver” is about so much more than paying attention to the needs of others. In fact, the central message of Kriseman’s book is that we, as family caregivers caring for a family member or friend, need to pay attention to own needs above all else. Our “first order of business,” she says, is to “check in” with ourselves about how we are doing:

Mindfulness “reminds you that you matter!  It nudges you to be kind and gentle,
nonjudgmental, and compassionate with yourself. It can help you prioritize, set
limits, stay true to yourself, and ultimately feel more at ease during the caregiving

Mindfulness also means living in the moment as much as possible, being open to what is happening in the here and now as neither good nor bad. That kind of mindfulness takes quite a bit of energy, I believe, in much the same way that listening closely to someone takes concentration and patience. How, I wondered, can family caregivers be expected to maintain that level of mindfulness day in and day out? It makes me feel tired just thinking about it.

Nancy L. Kriseman, LCSW, author of "The Mindful Caregiver"
Nancy L. Kriseman, LCSW, author of “The Mindful Caregiver”

Fortunately, Kriseman makes mindfulness in caregiving seem manageable—even appealing. Mindful caregiving means being intentional about the level of care we can provide and the choices we make.  “Being intentional requires that caregivers learn to ask themselves the following about how they provide care:

  • Is this necessary?
  • Am I doing too much?
  • Am I expecting too much of myself?”

Kriseman shows us how to approach specific caregiving challenges with this type of intentionality, whether it’s learning to communicate with a person who has lost their language, deciding whether or not to place a loved one in a facility, advocating for our loved ones in a facility, or watching over them at the end of life.

In fact, “The Mindful Caregiver” could be described not just as a meditation on mindfulness, but as a top-notch “how to” book for caregivers. Her tips for finding a geriatric care manager, deciding on an elder care facility, or advocating for your loved one in the E.R., for example, seem comprehensive. As readers we benefit from Kriseman’s long career working with elders and their caregivers, and from her ability to write clearly and compassionately.

Dementia Caregiving

We also benefit from the fact that Kriseman was a caregiver herself. Her mother was diagnosed at age 71 with Alzheimer’s disease, and passed away 17 years later. If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, you may appreciate that Kriseman includes many tips specifically for dementia caregivers. I found the scenes with her mother to be very moving. Kriseman writes:

I tried to stay connected with my mother and communicate with her about aspects of my life and her life until the very end of her disease. Truthfully, I am not sure how much she was able to understand. What mattered was that I could continue to treat her as my mother and honor our mother-daughter relationship.

While many adult children feel as if they are switching roles with their aging parent with dementia (“mothering” their mother, for example), Kriseman reminds us that if we sit with our parent in a mindful way, open to the unexpected, we may be surprised by the ways in which our parent is still “here.” Kriseman says, “Even when my mother didn’t seem to know that I was her daughter, she did know that I loved her.”

A Road Map for Challenging Situations

In addition to these personal anecdotes, what makes “The Mindful Caregiver” particularly compelling are the author’s descriptions of the challenges faced by some of her former clients. I found it intriguing to see how a seasoned professional like Kriseman responded to difficult situations such as

  • a man who insists on driving when his doctor has told him he should stop;
  • an elderly woman with significant health issues who risks her own well-being to care for her disabled husband at home because it’s her “duty”;
  • a daughter whose demanding mother makes her feel as if she never does enough to help her;
  • a husband struggling to come to terms with his wife with young-onset dementia reacting violently to his attempts to hold her or touch her in any way; and
  • caregivers of all stripes who are “over-functioning”—that is, trying to do everything themselves because they assume that no one will help, or that no one can do things as well as they can.

I appreciated that Kriseman goes into detail for each scenario, offering us a road map if we find ourselves in similar situations. Many readers will see themselves and their families in these pages, and feel both reassured that they are not alone and empowered to put their own needs firsts.

To learn more about Nancy L. Kriseman, LCSW, and “The Mindful Caregiver: Finding Ease in the Caregiving Journey,” visit www.nancykriseman.com.

Please share your thoughts about “mindful” caregiving. Do you have experience putting mindfulness practices to work in your journey as a caregiver? 

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