Leeza Gibbons may be best known for her co-hosting role on “Entertainment Tonight” or for winning “The Apprentice” in the final season that Donald Trump hosted, but now, she’s making name for herself in the medical space by raising awareness for caregivers.
“I think caregivers are heroic, and I see the resilience and the fierce optimism with which they need to bring to that act of love every day,” Gibbons told FoxNews.com’s Dr. Manny Alvarez during a recent Health Talk, aligning with November’s National Family Caregivers Month. “As a society, we don’t really see it; we don’t recognize it.”
According to the Caregiver Action Network (CAN), more than 65 million Americans, or 29 percent of the U.S. population, provide care for a family member or friend who is disabled or chronically ill, and spend an average of 20 hours per week doing so. That free assistance amounts to an estimated $375 billion a year, or twice as much as what’s spent annually on homecare and nursing home services combined ($158 billion), according to CAN.
Through her foundation, Leeza’s Care Connection, Gibbons, 59, has aimed to help serve caregivers through connections with other people like themselves for the past 14 years. For example, using the project’s services, parents of autistic children can connect, as can adults caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease, or a friend caring for a loved one with multiple sclerosis (MS).
“It’s a place where people can begin to answer that question, now what?” she said. “Our job is to help connect you to your own strength and grounding, so that you can have the energy to get through this marathon.”
At its two physical locations, in Burbank, California, and Columbia, South Carolina, the network offers support groups and classes like yoga therapy and yoga.
“It’s easy to see this glass [as] totally empty, but the reality is it’s your glass,” Gibbons said. “You own it, so you have to be the one responsible for what you put in that glass.”
Gibbons offered a handful of tips for caregivers to help fill that glass on their own:
1.) Take your oxygen first
While stressed, many people have the tendency to take shallow breaths, but Gibbons advised resisting that inclination by using a mantra.
“If you can do the mantra ‘Breathe, believe, receive,’ I think those are three really important things to slow down your heart rate [and] lower your blood pressure.”
She also recommended opening yourself to help, either by channeling your inner strength or looking to a higher power.
“Stop achieving [and] start receiving for a little bit,” she added. “People really do want to help.”
2.) Talk as a family
“[As a caregiver], no one sends you a card saying, ‘Way to go, good luck with that caregiving thing,’” Gibbons explained. “We tend to kind of isolate and walk a very lonely path.”
Instead of isolating yourself, which can contribute to depression, let everyone in your family have a voice, Gibbons suggested. Doing so can help banish feelings of blame, resentment, and guilt over not being able to fix a loved one’s health problem or provide the level of care you would like.
“Just have that family check-in, whether it’s [through] Skype, Facetime or conference calls … so that everyone feels valued and heard,” she said.
These conversations can help all parties involved feel considered— especially caregivers, who may not feel recognized for their work.
“If there are people out there that are doing this work, and there’s 65 million of us, just acknowledge somebody: ‘Gosh, I know what you’re doing is hard, but you’re doing great,’” she suggested.
3.) Incorporate technology
Not all caregivers provide continuous care in person, including Gibbons, who is a remote caregiver to her father. Gibbons lives in Los Angeles, while her father lives in South Carolina.
Using technology has facilitated staying connected to her father, and in turn made Gibbons feel more assured of his wellbeing.
“I worried myself sick about the No. 1 concern, falls and managing medications … with my dad,” she said. “I nagged him, and I nagged him, and I really did until he got a medical alert device.”
Gibbons described the device, a Philips Lifeline, as a safety belt. Two years after she gave him the technology, he needed it when he fell after suffering a heart attack. The device signaled help.
“I said, ‘It’s not for you, Daddy’— because he didn’t want it— ‘It’s for me’ … and it really did give me incredible peace of mind,” she recalled.
Today, she’s grateful she took advantage of technology in her caregiving role.
“Without that, I wouldn’t have my dad,” she added.
To learn more about how you can support caregivers or to get more advice if you’re a caregiver yourself, visit http://www.leezascareconnection.org.