Benita Hampton, a Certified Dementia Practitioner and Caregiver Coach with a specialization in Aging & Dementia Education, is the founder and host of The Caregiver Coach podcast. During the span of her career, Benita has taught many workshops on the topics of aging and dementia, particularly, sundowning, dementia-related behavioral issues, and healthcare planning. Benita’s debut book, “Mama’s Got Dementia, Daddy’s Gone Crazy…and I’m Not Far Behind” is currently in the works and is scheduled for publishing by mid-next year.
1. Who do you care for (now and/or in the past)? What is your role/relationship?
My mom and I cared for my grandma after she was diagnosed with dementia, over 20 years ago, and I credit that caregiver journey as the catalyst that pushed me forward to work in senior care, then become a caregiver coach. Back then, there was virtually no such thing as a coach or advocate in the caregiver support space and I watched the physical and emotional toll that caring for grandma took on my mom. It was then that I resolved to do all that I could to become a resource to others that found themselves thrust into their own caregiver journey. I also had the honor to care for both of my parents at the end of their lives, and I feel that the experience of caring for an aging parent just strengthened my resolve to support other caregivers.
2. When did you start to realize you were a caregiver?
When I am teaching a workshop I often ask the attendees to raise their hand if they ever looked into their parents’ eyes as a child and said, “I love you so much, I can’t wait until you grow old and can no longer care for yourself. I will find the best living accommodations for you when that time comes.” After 17 years of my career as a caregiver coach and an aging & dementia educator, I have yet to ever have an attendee or client say, “Yes! I’ve said that!” I think that caregiving is something that can just sneak up on you. It’s not always something that you plan for, and it’s certainly not something that you ever feel well prepared for. My personal caregiving journey is no exception. I did what so many other family caregivers have had to do, I saw that my loved one had a need and I just started providing care, while learning (through trial and error) along the way. It was something that just continued to evolve until one day I realized that I was a caregiver.
3. What helps you when you’re feeling overwhelmed by your caregiving responsibilities? What advice would you give to family caregivers in this situation?
I am very passionate about ensuring that caregivers create a plan of care for themselves. Whether you call it a respite care plan, an escape plan or something else, I believe that every caregiver needs to have this in place, and then make sure it’s followed. Every situation is different, maybe a family member can step in and provide regular breaks, maybe a professional caregiving agency can assist with providing care so that the caregiver can seek respite. Providing care for a loved one comes with a high risk of caregiver burnout, creating a respite plan of care for yourself will go a long way to help avoid the dangers of burnout.
4. What is the one thing you know now that you would tell new family caregivers?
In my coaching practice, we have a saying: “Stay Bendy” It’s how we remind ourselves and each other to stay flexible. The dynamics of caring for an aging loved one are constantly changing. What worked for you on Monday, might not work on Tuesday. Give yourself permission to stay flexible and breathe through the changes.
5. How has caregiving changed you?
My caregiving journey has changed my life. Caring for my grandma, all those years ago, caused me to choose my career path and to serve in the caregiver support space. In the introduction to my podcast I talk about both the messy and the magical parts of being a caregiver to someone you love, and I believe that. Some days are messy, some days are magical, most days are hard. Caregiving has taught me flexibility, patience, gratitude and to celebrate the small victories. Caring for my parents taught me the importance of advocating for your loved one; to be brave enough to have conversations that matter; and that you can experience peace of mind that surpasses understanding when you know that you are carrying out your loved one’s wishes during their final days. Caregiving is tough stuff, but you can still find joy in the journey, and it’s a journey that will change your life.