Meet the Experts

Patricia Russell

RN, BSN, RAC-CT, Director of Nursing, Saint Mary Home, West Hartford, CT

Eric M. Dana

NHA, RN, BS, Administrator, Saint Mary Home, West Hartford, CT

Most of us will be caregivers in one way or another at some point in our lives. Whether caregiving is your vocation or something done out of devotion to a family member, taking care of others is a part of human nature. But just because it is part of a job that we love, it can still have the potential to be extremely overwhelming both physically and mentally.

Caring for others is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It is a job that requires focus, extreme patience, and strength. For those of us that are caregivers by trade, such as nurses, certified nursing assistants, and personal caregivers, as well as those that are caregivers by choice, caring for someone else is a full-time job. There are many things you can do to help ensure that you do your best taking care of others while still maintaining your sense of self.

Caregiving – The Physical Role

Caring for others can be physically exhausting. Individuals that are in need of personal caregivers can range from physically self-sufficient to those that have mobility challenges or are completely reliant on others. Either way, there is likely a fairly large physical component to the job. It is important to assess the mobility of the person you are caring for so that you can best determine what safety devices or additional help you will need. Taking small steps to maintain good body mechanics can go a long way in remaining injury free while on the job.

Overexertion injuries are far too common in the world of the caregiver, and most can be prevented. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the most common injuries seen in caregivers are those to the back, neck, and shoulders. Taking precautions so that you don’t hurt yourself is important. Your physical well-being is essential for you to be able to perform your job. We spoke with Patricia Russell, Director of Nursing, about a few things that you can do to make sure that you stay in top shape and retain your physical health while caring for others.

Proper Lifting

Assistance with your client or loved one’s mobility is often a large part of caregiving. Sometimes this can mean turning a patient in bed or helping with dressing. Sometimes it can even mean assisting the patient with standing and walking. There are different techniques you can use, even for the smallest tasks, that can protect your body from injury. Start practicing proper lifting and body movement techniques as soon as possible to start developing good habits early.

5 Tips for Lifting a Loved One

  • Team Effort – Allow the patient to help – let them use the muscles that they can.

  • Use Your Legs! Never lift with your back. Use the muscles in your legs to lift while keeping your back straight and do not bend at the waist.

  • Communicate. Let the patient know on what count you will be lifting and explain what will happen.

  • Don’t rush, go slow. Think through your plan ahead of time.

  • Avoid twisting at the waist when lifting.

Expert tip:

There are many classes – both in-person and online that can help teach proper lifting techniques through demonstration. Usually they are just a few short hours of your time and can go a long way in helping to prevent injury.

Core Strengthening

Your core is the area around your abdomen and pelvis and is where your center of gravity is located. A strong core is essential for good whole-body health. Performing exercises that help create a strong central unit can not only protect your muscles and spine when you’re on the job, but in everyday life as well. Strengthening your core is never a bad thing.

It may feel like there is little spare time in your day to focus on exercise, but just a small amount of time dedicated to physical fitness can make a big difference.

Core exercises do not isolate one single muscle, but rather use a group of muscles. Most, if not all, core exercises can be done without any equipment at all and in your own home in just a few minutes a day. The Mayo Clinic offers an example of a core strengthening workout that is perfect for caregivers here: Exercises to Improve Your Core Strength.

Keep in mind that while strengthening your core is important, so is aerobic exercise. It is important for you to get a period of at least 30 minutes of aerobic-style exercise (a brisk walk, jog, swim, etc.) on most days of the week. This can keep your heart, bones, and overall health strong.

Caregiving – Emotional Well-Being

Taking on the role of caregiver, while rewarding, can be extremely taxing on one’s emotions as well. Being a caregiver requires a large amount of patience and dedication, and more often than not, is a full time job. Especially when you are caring for a loved one. Making sure that you take care of yourself and stay refreshed is important. You will not be able to fully help others if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Everyone needs a break sometimes.

Stress and Burnout

Depending on the circumstances, caring for another individual can be extremely stressful, whether caring for a loved one or a client.

Caregiver burnout and exhaustion can occur quickly, but can be prevented if you put self-care at the top of your priority list. If you notice yourself becoming frequently frustrated, reach out for help. Sometimes the ability to express your feelings and take a break can go a long way in staving off burnout. Know what the burnout warning signs are and if you are experiencing any of them, seek help sooner than later. When caregiving is a job, a break may be just what you need. Reach out to your manager and ask for a change in assignment to get that small time away.

This online “Stress Checker” may be helpful in determining your level of stress due to caregiving responsibilities.

Below are some tips for getting these much needed mental breaks from the job.

5 things that you can do right now to take better care of YOU

  1. Go out to lunch with a friend or co-worker. Sometimes venting and talking with someone else is enough to get a mental break.

  2. Write in a journal. Putting your feelings in writing can often serve as a mental release.

  3. Go for a walk. Exercise can go a long way in helping you to feel refreshed.

  4. Make a list of priorities for the day and make sure you get to them.

  5. Download a mindfulness or meditation app on your smart device and try practicing it once a day.

If you are caring for a loved one, respite care can be extremely beneficial. Respite care provides caregivers with a temporary break from caregiving, while the patient receives quality care from a temporary caregiver. Having a place that you can trust to provide this care for your loved one is essential. There may be a time when you are sick, unable to provide care, or even just need a break. Making sure an alternate caregiver is lined up ahead of time can make things easier when this situation arises and allow for a smoother transition.

Questions to Ask When Looking for Respite Care for a Loved One

  • Is the facility staffed with licensed professionals?

  • Do they provide in-home respite care services as well?

  • Are the hallways and common areas well lit?

  • Do the floors of the facility feature non-slip surfaces?

  • What safety measures are in place to protect confused patients that may attempt to leave?

  • Are doors and rooms labeled clearly with both words and pictures?

  • What kinds of meals/food is offered?

  • Will the facility cater to special dietary requests needed?

  • Does the facility offer a variety of activities that cater to patients at different levels of cognition?

  • Is pet therapy available?

Provided by Saint Mary Home, West Hartford, CT

Using a respite locator tool like this one from ARCH National Respite Network can be helpful for finding a certified respite care provider. Additionally, it is helpful to read about the different types of respite care offered so you can find the right program for you and your client or loved one.

Caring for Those with Cognitive Disorders

Cognitive disorders primarily affect the area of the brain responsible for memory, perception, amnesia, and problem solving. Alzheimer’s, dementia, and delirium are cognitive disorders. Being a caregiver for these patients can be extremely taxing and most certainly is a full-time job.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 35% of caregivers for patients with alzheimer’s or dementia report a decrease in their overall health secondary to their caregiving responsibilities.
It is more important than ever to take breaks and have a support system that can assist with the caregiving responsibilities.

Resources for Nutrition, Fitness and Overall
Wellness During Nursing School

Remember that you are not alone. There are 24-hour helplines that can offer advice and assistance as well as other resources such as this Online Caregiver Center provided by the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Care is a state in which something does matter; it is the source of human tenderness.” -Rollo May, psychologist.

Whether you have chosen to become a caregiver or caregiving has chosen you, you have quite the job ahead of you. But you also have quite the reward. There are few things more noble than dedicating yourself to the care and well-being of others.


with Patricia Russell, Director of Nursing, and
Eric Dana,
Administrator at Saint Mary Home.

Please tell me a little about Saint Mary’s home. What services are offered? How many beds do you have? How big is the staff? Who is on staff?

Saint Mary Home, part of The Mercy Community in West Hartford, CT, is a 256-bed Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF), 97-apartment Residential Care Home and we also offer an Adult Day Center. Saint Mary Home has 360 employees. Saint Mary Home opened in 1880 and is the longest continuously-operating SNF in Connecticut. The McAuley, also a part of The Mercy Community, opened in 1988 and is an Independent and Assisted Living facility.

What types of rehabilitation services are offered:

Physical Therapy
Occupational Therapy
Speech Therapy
Respiratory Therapy

What would you say to caregivers that feel bad for using hired care for their loved one?

It is okay and a necessity for caregivers to be able to take care of their own health, too.
Consider carefully and compassionately whether your care is appropriate to maintain your loved one’s safety and well being.

What are some important things you should ask when looking for care for a loved one?

the facility staffed with licensed professionals, like LPNs and RNs? Is the staff trained in memory care? Are hallways and common areas well lit? Does the facility feature non-slip floor surfaces in all rooms and common areas? What safety measures are in place to protect confused residents or clients who may attempt to leave? Are doors and rooms labeled clearly, with both words and pictures, to assist residents in orienting themselves? Does the food look good and is its taste appetizing? Does the facility encourage healthy eating? Will they cater to special nutritional needs or requests? Does the facility offer a variety of activities geared toward people at different levels of cognition? Is pet therapy available?

What are some signs/symptoms of caregiver(both loved ones and people on staff) stress and burnout?

Frequency of voice, expressing frustration, calling out: “I can’t take it anymore,” teary eyed or crying.

What kind of support system does a caregiver need in order to avoid burnout?

Opportunity to express feelings, a break from caregiving, and change of caregiver’s assignment if possible.

What are some tips you have for decreasing this stress and burnout?

Proper sleep, eating properly, exercise, appropriate staffing support and continuity of staff.

Being a caregiver can be an extremely physical task depending on how dependent their loved one is. Where would a caregiver go to get tips on how to properly lift, turn and help their loved one?

– Different associations or support groups such as Alzheimer’s Association
– From professional care providers, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy

If a loved one in your care falls – what should a caregiver do? Lift them up right away?

Never lift up right away. It is important to assess the person for injury before moving. Ask the patient to demonstrate if they can move all extremities and if they have pain. When in doubt, call 911.

Are there daily exercises that a caregiver can perform that will strengthen their core to make them stronger and better able to physically help their loved one?

They need to follow proper body mechanics such as lift with the legs, avoid twisting. If working together, time movement with three count. Consult your doctor for appropriate strength training.