Caregiving and Multi-Tasking: Are You Trying To Do Too Much?
If you’re counting medications, talking on the phone to Medicare, cooking dinner, letting out the cat, answering your mother’s incessant questions—and zipping over to the computer to order your husband’s birthday cake—you’re a multitasking caregiving fool. Not that you’re a fool, it’s just that I figured out it was foolish for me to think I could pull all that off at the same time—error free.
Why doesn’t multitasking work?
It boils down to our brain structure. Science, April 16, 2010 edition reports a study in brain imaging when subjects are given many tasks to complete simultaneously. The study asked subjects to “juggle streams of letters, concurrently performing two pairing tasks” only to find that our brains simply can’t do its best job when given too many jobs.
When we give our brains one task, one part of our two-part hemispheres take on the job—whichever the chore is best suited for. When we give our brains a second job, it’s allocated to the other half. We might be able to manage that, but add a third, and there’s no more hemispheres. We volley back and forth, jump from thought to thought, and eventually one of the balls gets dropped.
Sadly, and particularly in the medical field, “dropping the ball” can lead to dangerous outcomes—wrong dosages, a surgery on the wrong limb, a botched procedure. Even as a family caregiver, the wrong medications or incorrect dosage amounts are a strong possibility.
How do you care-give without multi-tasking?
I won’t lie. It’s not easy.
I was a sandwich generation, multi-generational, multi-tasking mom. Three kids, two dogs, a cat, a traveling husband, and a mom with heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. My days and nights blurred like a carosel on crack. I was dealing with teenage drivers, dating, my mom’s list of medications, her in and out hospital stays, a house to manage, my own feelings of womanhood, marriage, and laying down a career in order to be “mom central.” And yes, I dropped the ball. I let exhaustion and frustration lead me to some poor decisions. There were days I would sold a kid to the gypsies, my mom to the circus–and I had big plans of heading south and taking up life as a salty, toothless waitress.
I had my scares–waking up to find my kid had blown curfew. Waking up to find my mom heading out the back door (thank goodness for alarms!), calling poison control because my mom had tried to drink liquid deodorant (drink milk is what the told me–ever try to force an adult to drink anything?) Those wake-up calls scared the crap out of me. I was blowing it–and the consequences were only going to ramp up if I didn’t figure out how to care for those i loved.
The world comes at caregivers pretty hard and fast.
All we can do is prioritize. Let things wait. Decide what’s most important and shut the rest out, especially when it comes to medications, bathing, driving, and other safety issues. So ignore the phone. Answer that email later. Turn off the television. As the world around you begins to calm, you’ll find you really enjoy paying attention to just one thing at a time.
And perhaps there’s even a more important reason. When we’re multitasking we’re not really present. We may be performing a complicated list of chores, but we’re not the daughter, son, or spouse we mean—and need—to be.
~Carol D. O’Dell
Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle