Support for Caregivers and Families

Caring for someone with ALS is hard work and more than a full time job. But there are resources and support to help you care for your loved one with ALS.

The ALS Association Oregon and SW Washington Chapter is here to offer direct support like financial responsbility for in-home caregiving, as well as emotional support, advice in dealing with practical issues and access to community resources.

To talk about proactive ways to manage the care of your loved one with ALS, please reach out to your local care services coordinator or contact CareServices@alsa-or.org or 503.238.5559 ext 100.

The impact of an ALS diagnosis is profound. It’s not uncommon for daily tasks, such as meals, laundry, and children’s activities, to be less of a priority when providing care for a loved one with the disease. Caregivers may feel defeated by the growing list of tasks they are no longer able to manage.

It’s often hard to know when and how to ask friends and neighbors for help. And for those who want to offer a helping hand, it’s difficult to know just what is needed and how to make a difference.

Now, when someone asks what they can do to help, the answer is "give me your name and email address so I can provide access to our ALS Care Connection page." ALS Care Connection is a private online calendar that can be used to support to the entire family by organizing volunteers to take care of some of those tasks families describe as "falling through the cracks."

The ALS Care Connection is a simple online tool that helps organize the community of people who want to help. It coordinates their efforts to more efficiently support families living with ALS. To learn more about this tool and its features, review our step-by-step guide to getting started.

View the recent Care Connection webinar below:

  • Take Care of Yourself
    Caregivers often do not get adequate personal time. It is important to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. Taking time for yourself is not selfish and will improve your capacity to care for your loved one. Make your needs known and create time to do the things that are important to you personally. Continue relationships and activities that are important to you.
  • Ask for Help
    Caregivers may not ask for the help they need to provide care for their loved one and to take care of themselves. Have a "wish list" available when people ask what they can do to help you. Most people want to help, but do not know what to do. Accept help when it is offered.  Recognize the limits of your own endurance and strength and help your loved one accept care from others. A good resource for building a circle of help and care is http://www.sharethecare.org/.
  • Be Aware of Depression
    Depression can strike anyone and caregivers are especially vulnerable - it is the most common healthcare condition reported by family caregivers. Be aware of the early signs of depression and see your healthcare professional if you think you are becoming depressed. You do not have to live with depression.
  • Value Yourself
    Caregivers do amazing work in caring for their loved ones. Recognize the important and good job you are doing and realize how valuable you are. Caregiving is a never-ending job and perfection is an unrealistic goal. Do not allow the normal feelings of guilt and anger keep you from seeing the value of your daily caregiving.
  • Manage Your Stress
    Caregivers can strengthen their coping and stress management skills by communicating their feelings and needs, setting limits and making decisions to do things for themselves. Identify one or two people with whom you can speak freely about your needs and feelings. Professional counseling can be very beneficial for caregivers who are trying to not lose their own sense of self in the role as caregiver. It is appropriate to set limits and expectations with your loved one, family and friends. Physical exercise, creative activities, humor and social/family events are effective strategies for countering caregiver stress.
  • Educate Yourself
    Knowledge is empowering. Get as much information about ALS and caregiving as you can. The more you know, the better prepared you will be in proving care and support. Ask friends and relatives to help gather information and resources. Become an advocate for your loved one and for yourself.
  • Know You Are More Than a Caregiver
    In becoming a caregiver, some people experience a loss of the roles and relationships they had with their loved one before the illness. It is easy to see yourself as more a caregiver than wife/husband/parent or child. Identify ways to keep your personal and family roles and relationships alive. Talk about family events and news about children and grandchildren. Look at family photos together. Change the daily routines periodically like adding candles to the dinner table or putting on your favorite music. Making the effort to retain the relationship you have had with your loved one - aside from your role as caregiver will help you in coping with the multitude of changes family caregiving poses.
  • Talk to Other Caregivers
    Caregivers who share resources and their own personal experiences report less stress and fewer problems. Establish networks and support systems with other caregivers to share solutions to common problems and to talk with people who can understand first-hand what you are experiencing.  Many of our chapters run caregiver support groups.  You can also talk to other caregivers via online forums such as www.thefamilycaregiver.org and www.caregiver.com.
  • Utilize Assistance Programs
    Take advantage of local, state and federal programs that support and assist caregivers.
    • Some states and local agencies provide financial support in the form of vouchers or cash for services and equipment.
    • Military veterans with ALS may be eligible for Aide and attendance allowance.
    • Many state and community agencies and non-profit organizations - such as The ALS Association and religious groups - offer respite services. Contact us to find out about respite programs.
    • Some states offer tax credits and deductions for family caregivers.
    • Employed caregivers may want to apply for unpaid Family and Medical Leave under the Federal program.
    • A list of agencies can be found here: http://www.thefamilycaregiver.org/caregiving_resources/agencies_and_organizations.cfm

Being a caregiver of someone with ALS is a very important role. It usually involves a number of tasks that can be very time consuming, and can require a great deal of effort. If we do not learn to recognize that certain tasks and expectations can take their toll on us, regardless of what role(s) we play in life, we may find ourselves headed down the path of burnout. Burnout can be defined as exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress. Burnout may also be as subtle as simply no longer feeling "connected" to what it is we are doing. This can apply to a number of situations, such as the workplace, with family, or activities with a group we belong to. A key to guarding against burnout is to be willing to take a close look at our lives, in order to become more conscious of our thoughts and behaviors. Some practical questions to ask ourselves are, "What causes burnout?", "How do I know if I am burning out?" and "What can I do to prevent burnout?". We will attempt to answer these three very important questions below:

Common Causes of Burnout

Perfectionism: 
A perfectionist continually focuses on what needs to be improved, rather than what has been accomplished. When this becomes our focus, we may never feel that we have succeeded at anything.
 
Never-ending tasks:
Never-ending tasks describe work that appears to lack both a beginning and end. This can lead us to feel as if we have no closure, and therefore have not completed anything.
 
Work overload:
Work overload is when we have more work to do than we can complete in a given amount of time. When we operate this way, we set ourselves up for failure.

Impossible tasks:
Impossible tasks suggest that we are physically unable to do something we may feel we should be able to do. If we believe that we should be able to do something that we cannot do, we automatically feel like we have failed. It is a no-win situation.

Multiple roles:
Many of us play a number of important roles in our lives, such as wife/husband, mother/father, caregiver, and breadwinner. It is easy to feel overwhelmed when we are trying to play multiple roles in our lives.

Self-sacrifice:
Self-sacrifice occurs when we agree to take on certain tasks despite our true desire to complete them. When we continually agree to things that we would rather not do, we inevitably become resentful.

Unspoken feelings:
Any emotion that is unexpressed creates "blocks" in our ability to complete tasks and to function in relationships. If we do not speak about how we are truly feeling in a situation, those emotions surface in other, unproductive ways such as being chronically late, frequently forgetting things, or reacting in ways that are inappropriate to the situation. 

Common Symptoms of Burnout

It is important to remember that we are not alone in our experiences with burnout. At some point in time, it is likely that most of us will experience one or more of the following symptoms:
 
"Negative" emotions:
"Negative" emotions are the feelings that are often the least comfortable to feel.  One symptom of burnout is consistent "negative" feelings such as anger, anxiety, dissatisfaction and guilt.

Interpersonal problems:
We might experience conflict with others in the form of emotional outbursts, overreacting, hostility and withdrawal.

Health Problems:
Some common health problems associated with burnout are frequent insomnia, fatigue, headaches, backaches, lethargy and high blood pressure.

Poor performance:
We may become less productive due to boredom, lack of enthusiasm, feelings of fear or an inability to concentrate.

Substance abuse:
Another symptom of burnout is a marked increase in the consumption of alcohol and/or other drugs, cigarette smoking, caffeine and food.

Workaholism: 
We might be inclined to work more hours due to feelings of inadequacy, believing that the more we work, the better we will feel.

Depression:
Depression is the suppression of emotions. We may be depressed if we notice an overall feeling of hopelessness and meaninglessness. 

Loss of self-esteem:
Simply stated, the loss of self-esteem equals a decrease in self-confidence.

Solutions in Dealing with Burnout

Once we become more aware of why we experience burnout, and the various ways burnout manifests itself, we can begin to focus on ways to guard against it. It is time to develop a plan of action!

Take care of yourself: 

  • Regularly feed your body nutritious foods
  • Get sufficient rest
  • Exercise routinely
  • Pay attention to your body's signals of stress 

Practice stress-reducing strategies: 

  • Breathing exercises
  • Yoga
  • Progressive relaxation techniques
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Tai chi 

Develop a strong support system: 

  • Surround yourself with friends/family by whom you feel supported.
  • Attend a support group where you can share your concerns & feelings.
  • Create a support /discussion group at work where you can share your concerns, while being willing to talk about your part in the problem and the solution.
  • Utilize your company's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to receive support/counseling or referrals for services that can assist you.
  • See a counselor or therapist if you are in need of more extensive mental health support. 

Create a fulfilling life: 

  • Make conscious decisions about how you want to spend your time.
  • Say "yes" to what you want to say "yes" to, and say "no" to what you want to say "no" to.
  • Acknowledge your priorities and actively build your life around them. 

The key to avoiding burnout is to continually seek balance in our lives. The more informed we are about our own issues with burnout, the better armed we will be to take care of ourselves. Consequently, the better job we do of taking care of our own needs, the more we can be physically, mentally, and emotionally available to those around us.

Portland Family Caregiver Group
Third Tuesday of every month at 4 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
The Redwood Room
6650 SW Redwood Lane, Portland, OR 97223
To attend and for questions, please contact: 
Susan Pennock at 503-238-5559 ext. 114 or Susan.Pennock@alsoregon.org

SW Washington Family Caregiver Group
Third Tuesday of every month at 4 p.m - 5:30 p.m.
St. Luke's Episcopal Church
E 4th Plain Blvd, Vancouver, WA 98663
To attend and for questions, please contact:
Cassy Adams at 503-238-5559 ext. 100 or Cassy.Adams@alsoregon.org

Salem Family Caregiver Group
First Wednesday of every month at 5 p.m.
Broadway Commons, Second Floor Conference Room
1300 Broadway St NE #100, Salem, OR 97301
To attend and for questions, please contact:
Mary Rebar at 541-990-1246 or Mary.Rebar@alsoregon.org

Please note that Central Oregon Family Caregiver Group meets virtually only. Southern Oregon Family Caregiver Groups is currently on hold. We are working hard to get back in person, but for now we would suggest joining the Statewide Family Caregiver Support Group. We will provide more details as we know them!