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Recognizing The Rewards Of Caregiving

Psychologist Duo Helps Families Find Fulfillment, Despite Stress


Family caregiving is hard work and incredibly stressful – but it’s also rewarding.

Psychologist Barry Jacobs hopes people remember that.

AARP Meditations for Caregivers: Practical, Emotional, and Spiritual Support for You and Your Family, by Jacobs and his wife, clinical psychologist Julia Mayer, aims to help readers view caregiving as a “mission from the heart.” It will be released nationwide July 12.

The couple’s book includes chapters on accepting feelings, embracing rewards, seeking support, and managing stress. Each section offers three-part meditations for caregivers: an inspirational quote, an anecdote drawn from the authors’ personal or clinical experiences, and hands-on advice to help readers cope and arrive at some satisfaction in their caregiving roles.

Jacobs, director of behavioral sciences at the Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency Program in Springfield, Penn., spoke with Life Matters Media.

What inspired you to tackle caregiving?

There are many movies and books about caregiving that are mostly negative in tone. They make caregivers look like very beleaguered and bedraggled people who are trapped caring for loved ones that they don’t really want to care for.

I think that’s a very unrealistic view. I think that there are certainly some people who have bad experiences, but there are also many people who derive positive benefits from caregiving. Benefits like growing personally and spiritually, gaining a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. It also creates closer relationships with family members.

Our book, at the request of AARP, is to inspire caregivers – to see the rewards of caregiving, not just the challenges.

Barry Jacobs with his 85-year-old mother, Jeanette Gilbert. Submitted photo.
Barry Jacobs with his 85-year-old mother, Jeanette Gilbert. Submitted photo.

Do you have experience with caregiving?

I am still a caregiver.

My first set of experiences was when I was a teenager. When I was 14, my father developed brain cancer. He was sick for about a year – that had a tremendous impact on my family. I had responsibilities for him while he was ill. It’s because of that experience that I became a psychologist caring for people and families facing illness.

More recently, in 2010, my stepfather and mother were living in Florida in a nice, gated golf community when my stepfather developed very severe Alzheimer’s and dementia. My mother was struggling to care for him. So, my wife and I moved the two of them up from Florida to an apartment a mile from us in Pennsylvania. We spent the next several years caring for him.

My stepfather became increasingly demented and eventually went into a nursing home, where he died three years ago. My mother unfortunately, became increasingly frail with multiple falls, and herself started developing dementia. I became a very involved caregiver.

What did you learn?

I’ll state the obvious: it’s very challenging.

When I had to deal with it in my personal life, I had to confront problems, logistical and emotional. But, I learned how to utilize resources and reach-out for help. One can gain a sense of mastery and feel good about what you have done.

This book is timely. There’s millions of aging baby boomers, and many of them are already caring for their own loved ones.

My main goal is to make caregivers more inspired about their work. I don’t want them to feel demoralized or work with dread. I don’t want family caregivers to shy away from this work just because they have heard it’s bad work. I want them to see that although it has its challenges, you can grow and benefit from it. I want people to step-up.

Your book has a big focus on meditation. 

The whole idea was creating short stories upon which caregivers could reflect and glean some inspiring message. There are a lot of inspiring quotes for people dealing with adversity.

One of the main ways caregivers can care for themselves is through mind-fulfillment practices –to stay in the present and not dwell on the hurts of the past or worry about the future. There are all sorts of different ways of reflecting – traditional meditation, walking meditation, writing.

Hang in there with a loved one in the present and know that time is limited.