Being a caregiver is not easy. It’s a lot of work, it’s stressful, and it can feel unrewarding when you don’t see the results you were expecting. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss the role of the caregiver, and tips to help you take better care not only of your loved ones, but of yourself, as well.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to Caregiver Week. We have been spending a lot of time caregiving. Actually, as a-
Tana Amen: It's been one of those weeks.
Dr. Daniel Amen: As a nurse ... I should have married a nurse first because they like caregiving.
Tana Amen: You should have married this nurse first.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I should have married this nurse.
Tana Amen: Only this nurse.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yes, my life has been so much better since I've been with you. Caregiver Week, we're going to talk about the ins and outs, stresses, joys-
Tana Amen: Risks.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... of taking care of other people. Actually, it's interesting. Here at Amen Clinics, 60% of our patients are male, but 70% of the calls to the call center-
Tana Amen: Wives and mothers.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... are females, and so honoring caregivers and also giving you some tips on how to navigate this without feeling either homicidal or suicidal could be really helpful for you, we hope.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You have a review you want to read?
Tana Amen: Yes, I have a testimonial. This physician recommends listening to Dr. Amen. "A happy, healthy brain is the key to living. A perfectly healthy body with a depressed, anxious, or disrupted mind does not produce a happy life, but there are many examples of people who have impaired bodies who live and are happy. Behavior and nutrition determine brain function and, in the end, can even overcome genetic predisposition to brain disease. This podcast gives brief, encouraging, easy-to-understand information supported by evidence on real changes people can make to optimize brain function and happiness. Dr. Amen doesn't keep this information secret or use it for personal gain but, rather, he shares I freely. Have a free visit with Dr. Amen every day by listening to his podcast." I love that, have a free visit with the doctor.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I love that too, although I totally use it for myself, right? Then I get to share it with you.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Caregiving has been virtually part of my whole adult life. I remember when I got married when I was a second-year medical student. My first wife tried to kill herself a couple of months later, and I'm trying to fix her.
Tana Amen: You were a resident.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I wasn't a resident. I was a medical student.
Tana Amen: Oh, medical student, so that's hard. Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I knew nothing and-
Tana Amen: And you were busy. What do you do, quit or figure out how to do this with that schedule?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh, so juggling all those balls. It was really the unpredictability that was so hard. I think one of the smartest things I did is, right away, I reached out to the chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at ORU where I went to medical school, and he was so helpful, so tip number one for caregivers is find professionals you trust that can help you in a difficult situation.
Tana Amen: Yeah. If you're in over your head with something you don't really understand, it can be dangerous for you and the other person. Even if it's something physical, a physical problem, and you're trying to take care of someone, you can end up inadvertently hurting someone if you don't know how to manage it.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and one of the most common things that happens, and it happens with nurses, it happens with doctors-
Tana Amen: All the time.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... is called compassion fatigue. It's, initially, you just want to be so helpful. You want to jump in and fix the situation, but when you begin to realize the issue is chronic, that it's not like an infection that you give them and antibiotic and, five days later, everything's wonderful, then, over time, you get worn out. Tip number two is you got to take care of yourself in the process.
Tana Amen: You also need to take care of yourself physically because the other problem with nurses is they get physical injuries a lot. If you're taking care of someone else, you are oftentimes sacrificing your own posture, or you're doing certain things that you wouldn't normally do because you're taking care of a person that you love. You might be even doing things you know you're not supposed to do, lifting and doing things, so you have to be really careful and make sure you're doing things the correct way. Get the help you need.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You've been a caregiver ever since you were a little girl because you spent a lot of time caring for your grandmother-
Tana Amen: I helped out.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... who had diabetes. I remember one of your stories is when you were 10 or 11, and they taught you how to give shots.
Tana Amen: I was 11, yeah, when they taught me how to give shots to an orange, insulin shots.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right, but you couldn't kill the orange.
Tana Amen: Right. It was a scary thought, yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. What triggered Caregiving Week is someone close to us had surgery, and she has two children, and so not only were you there for the doctor visits and the surgery, we then had her stay at our house.
Tana Amen: With the kids. The one thing I want to say to people who have more than one child, dear Lord, it's busy. I am busy with one child, and all of a sudden I'm like, "Oh, my gosh. I have three stops to make. Oh, my gosh. I have three kids to get to different things." It was crazy. The amount of food that people go through when they have a whole bunch of kids is insane. I had this huge awakening to this whole idea of having a houseful of kids, and people, and someone you're taking care of at the same time.
It was pretty crazy, but the first thing that I did, and I'm really lucky that I can do this, and I want to acknowledge that I am grateful and lucky, was delegate. Because I am able to ask for help, I've got an amazing community. It's one of the things we talk about is your social circle and making sure that you've got a community around you, so do your best to find people that can be helpful to you, because you were helpful in the mornings. You're gone during the day, but you're super helpful in the mornings [crosstalk 00:07:24]-
Dr. Daniel Amen: I made breakfast.
Tana Amen: Made breakfast and would help drive the kids to school, but then also I've got other people like assistants and things like that at work, which they're not used to doing that. They had to sort of rally. Try to find people who might be able to help out, because it got a little crazy because I had a person who can't bend, or turn, or literally turn her head, or do anything for herself, so leaving that person alone is probably not a good idea. It gets challenging.
Dr. Daniel Amen: What were some of the emotions you had to wrestle with?
Tana Amen: Mostly just fatigue. It was mostly just rushing, I can't get all of this done, being fatigued, at the end of the day being tired. Oh, no. No, that's not true. Most of the emotions I wrestled with were being completely annoyed by the medical system. That was my primary ... I was so annoyed and just ... Yeah. I'm not that patient. I'm an ICU nurse, so when I see incompetence, it's I'm not super empathic toward the person who's being incompetent when I'm trying to take care of someone I love.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's actually not effective to be a pansy-
Tana Amen: Yeah. I wouldn't call me that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... in dealing with the medical system.
Tana Amen: Well-
Dr. Daniel Amen: No, I think what you did was very effective, and I think it would be instructive for caregivers, so when the person is not used to dealing with the medical system and they want to be liked rather than-
Tana Amen: That was my sister.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... accomplish what you need to. She would call and be really nice?
Tana Amen: She didn't want to be a pain. She didn't want to be a burden, so she wasn't telling the truth about what she was really going through. She was trying to sugarcoat it and using way too many words, and then they were literally basically getting her off the phone and not doing anything, and so I'm like, "Okay, let me help you out with this."
Where I learned this from was because when I went to work on a Level A trauma unit in a neurosurgical ICU unit, it was a combined unit, that is one busy unit. In defense of the medical system, in defense of the physicians, okay, just to play both sides, they're overwhelmed also. Hospitals are busy places. They triage. They take what's the most critical, the most important, and that's what they focus on. Anything else they're going to push aside, and if you can't impress upon them that what you're trying to say is important, they're not going to take it that seriously. They're going to push it off until later.
When I first went to work on a unit like that, the first thing that the nurses told me when I went there, "You're going to get eaten alive. You are not going to survive here. You're way too nice." I had no idea what they meant. Took me about a week to figure out I was way too nice. I was getting shuffled aside, so I learned how to be very clear, make my first words count the most, be very, not just clear but very assertive in how I say it, so get it through quickly and adamantly.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You don't have to be mean when you're assertive-
Tana Amen: No. It's you are assertive. You are adamant.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... because meanness doesn't get you what you want.
Tana Amen: Well, what is it? What is it that they say? Honesty without compassion is just cruelty so ... But you're not always super compassionate when you're trying to deal with a whole bunch of doctors, and no one's listening to you. You learn how to be pretty intense.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I love what you said, make the first sentence, make the first words-
Tana Amen: Count.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... you say meaningful. Say what you need-
Tana Amen: Right up front.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... up front.
Tana Amen: Use less words because they're busy.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Now, when it comes to caregivers, I want you to practice saying this, "I have to think about it," so when someone asks you to do something for them, and you have a full plate. So many of us, I used to be like this, I mean you want to be liked, and you want to be nice, and you see yourself as a nice person, and so if someone says, "Hey, can you do this?" "Oh, yes." I don't want you to do that anymore. What I want you to do is, "Let me think about that," and then just take a moment and go, "Does this fit the goals I have for my life and the time I have?"
Tana Amen: For your family.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If it does, then go, "Yes, I can do that," but if it doesn't, go, "Oh. I'm really sorry. My schedule is just so full. I cannot do that."
Tana Amen: One thing I learned from you, and I really like this, is you don't have to just say, "No." It's, "No, thank you." There's a way to say things, and there's a way to say things. You can say the same thing, and one can sound harsh, and one can sound kinder. Or, "Not right now." That was the other one that you taught me was, "Not right now. I can't do it right now."
Dr. Daniel Amen: In the mirror in the morning, "I have to think about this," because, too often, people just say yes, and then they get overwhelmed, and they not only hate themselves, they hate the people they're caring for, so ...
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: When we come back, we're going to talk about if you have children who are hurting or emotionally troubled. How do you deal with that? Stay with us.
Tana Amen: If you're enjoying The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, please don't forget to subscribe so you'll always know when there's a new episode. While you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five-star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: For more information, give us a call at 855-978-1363.