Caregivers are often isolated by the nature of their responsibilities. Some can’t leave home without arranging for someone to come and care for their loved one. Others are simply taxed to expend energy on friends no matter how lonely they may feel. So, how can you be a friend to an isolated caregiver?
Dear Carol: My 83-year-old mother has lived with my family for two years, but her Type 1 diabetes and lung problems have been worsening. She also has severe pain from arthritis. Mom was recently hospitalized with a respiratory infection and took a long time to respond to treatment. They finally got the bacteria under control but she’s very weak and her breathing needs monitoring. The doctor insisted that she should only be released to a nursing home. I asked if this was just a time for recovery but he was strong in recommending that she move there permanently. He said that she needs more nursing care than she can get at home. We have good nursing homes here, but I’m having a hard time coping with the change. Mom seems to realize that this is best, so I know that I’m the one who must adjust. Do people often go from the hospital to a nursing home as a permanent move? KM
An amazing book of stories that will touch your heart and encourage you, especially if you are a caregiver. Carol Bradley Bursack also has an excellent website devoted to the elderly and their caregivers. - Carol Heilman
Many people would consider losing their sight one of the worst potential losses that they could encounter. While most of us will not suffer from complete blindness, millions currently suffer from some form of visual impairment, with numbers growing rapidly as we age. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), older adults represent the majority of the visually impaired population, with visual impairment included among the 10 most prevalent causes of disability in the U.S.
As caregivers, the first thing to go is the time, or even the energy and desire, to maintain friendships. Even maintaining friendships that go back years can seem like just one more thing to do when a caregiver is so swamped with demands. So, caregivers stop seeing friends, hence friends stop asking them to do anything fun. Friends get tired of being turned down. And caregivers forget that life was once fun. They are too busy giving care to everyone else to even notice the loss.
Many adults sit by the side of their dying loved ones, sometimes for days, working on accepting the loss of their physical presence and what this loss means in their lives. Then, a spouse, parent, child or friend suddenly rallies, becomes more stable and in some cases wants to talk. We grasp at what seems to be a turnaround and sigh with relief. They are going to hang on for a while; or are they?
Dear Carol: My mother lives in an assisted living facility. She has arthritic pain and is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, but she usually does well with the support that she has. When I visited her last Saturday evening she seemed upset and confused and she told me that she didn’t feel well. I suggested that she rest and reminded her that I’d see her in the chapel the next day for services. The next morning it seemed like a lot of the residents in the chapel were disgruntled, including Mom, who hadn’t improved overnight. We’d had a huge air pressure change in the last day, and I began to wonder if weather causing problems with health is myth or fact. I even mentioned it to one of the nurses after I escorted Mom back to the common room. The nurse nodded her head and said, “Oh, yes. We sure see it here.” She said that a full moon affects the residents, too. Now I'm beginning to wonder if there is something to this idea. What do you think? Jen
Wouldn't it be nice to be a caregiver who had only loving thoughts every moment of the caregiving day? Maybe there are caregivers like that. If you are one of them, I truly congratulate you. Most of us who have been through years of caregiving will not fall into that category. Here's a sampling of caregiver thoughts that I've heard people talk about. You'll likely feel better just reading them.
As a longtime family caregiver who provided, and continues to provide, differing levels of care for loved ones with illnesses, I can attest to the fact that caregiving can be unimaginably stressful. For dementia caregivers, the stress is even more extreme. Only lately have we seen the results of studies that have followed family caregivers. One of the most scientific, in that it uses hard physical evidence, was published last spring. The study, by Ohio State University in conjunction with the National Institute on Aging, showed that caregivers may have their life span shortened by four to eight years.
Dear Carol: My mom passed away a month ago from a major stroke. Since her death, I seem to either be in a fog or collapsing into tears. My sister, Carolyn, had been caring for mom until two years ago, but then Carolyn had a sudden heart attack and died. She was only 43. Mom then came to live with us. Mom had COPD and heart disease. My husband has always been a rock of support and love and my two kids have handled Mom's death well. They are trying to help me even though they, too, are grieving their aunt and their grandma. I’m the one who is a mess. I miss my mom more than I ever thought possible. My grief seems to be more consuming than that of other caregivers who’ve lost a parent. I’m not sure what to do with my overwhelming feelings. I’m not even sure what I’m asking for except that I need guidance. SC
Our culture is steeped in language that makes accepting the terminal diagnosis of ourselves or a loved one more difficult to accept than it needs to be. Doctors say, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing more we can do. You might want to look into hospice care.” Patients tell their doctors that they want “aggressive treatment,” until there is nothing else that can be done, then they will go on hospice care.The crux of these conversations is that medicine will do everything possible and then when you give up you will go on hospice care.