To many of us, a new year signifies a new start. We decide that, when the new year arrives, we will eat in a more healthful manner, exercise more, stand up to family members, friends or co-workers who are treating us disrespectfully, stop swearing, be a better spouse or parent and, of course, be a better caregiver. And we sometimes do these things, for at least a day. Well, a few hours, maybe. Then, we mess up. This is the danger point. As soon as we fudge a bit on one of our resolutions, we tend to dump the whole project.
Spouses and children of people who have been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease often feel neglected by forums, chat groups and even in-person support groups. It's easy to see why, since our greatest risk of developing Alzheimer's disease comes with age. However, there are legions of people who care for spouses or parents who are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in their forties or even younger. Adult day care can be a good option for these younger folks, too.
As a person who was the primary caregiver for multiple elders, many of whom lived for years with debilitating medical problems, I join the ranks of those who have wondered about the price we pay for being “saved” from diseases, only to live for years in a much diminished state. Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I loved my elders, and wouldn’t willingly have given up a moment that I spent with them. I think it’s wonderful that people can be rushed to an emergency room and have procedures done to save their lives after a stroke or other medical emergency. Antibiotics that can knock out infections have saved millions of elderly people from premature deaths.
In-home care is one of the most flexible types of care for the varying needs of our aging loved ones. As a family caregiver with multiple elders to care for, I used in-home care for both short-term and long-term situations. While getting used to "strangers" in the home was an adjustment for my elders, the advantages were worth the stress of change. How can an in-home care agency help you and your loved one?
Dear Carol: My mom is 86 and widowed. While I live over 800 away, I talk to her several times a week. Since my Dad’s death 5 years ago, Mom’s slowly sunk into isolation, loneliness and self-medication with alcohol. She’s showing some signs that her perspective on life and her sense of time are both changing. Also, her decision making is uneven, which signals to me that her mental capacity is diminishing. I am a responsible person and I love my mom, but I can’t move to her community to watch over her. I also may be too emotionally connected to make the right decisions.
For many, Christmas week is the traditional time to visit loved ones, often parents we haven’t seen for awhile, since families tend to be scattered in today’s mobile world. We want to make this visiting time as stress free and congenial as possible. Still, there is no way we aren’t going to notice our parents aging, particularly if we don’t see them often. A gap in time can often intensify our perception of the changes in those we love.
Many people are celebrating Christmas Day, today, December 25th. Caregivers may find the word “celebrating” a little over the top, but try not to be too dismissive. If you are caring for a parent or spouse who doesn’t recognize you for who you are, that doesn’t mean your efforts are unappreciated. Know that on some level, your love is understood. Celebrate that.
Think of it like this: Caregivers are the base of a pyramid. When the base collapses, the whole pyramid crashes. Many of us are "natural caregivers." We put other people's needs ahead of our own. It feels good to give. However, everyone has a breaking point. Whether it's physical, mental, emotional, spiritual - or more likely a combination of all of these - if the caregiver breaks down, the whole care system can collapse. Caregiver self-care is vital to all involved.
Long-distance caregiving is tough. Adult children often worry about how their aging parents are doing, especially if the distance is so great that the family only gets together once or twice a year. This often leads to the kids, with the best of intentions, pressuring their parents to move closer to them. It seems natural, since the parents aren't tied down by jobs and children in school. But is it right for the parents?
As a person who follows studies about Alzheimer's disease as well as other diseases related to aging, I've read my share of stories that imply one research team or another has made an important discovery that could "change the face of Alzheimer's."