COPING WITH THE STRESS OF BEING A PRIMARY CAREGIVER
For several months, Visiting Angels staff have been writing articles that have appeared regularly in this paper, offering what we hope are helpful tips for caring for elderly and disabled adults. Readers have shared their own stories with us, and our Visiting Angels home care agency has provided many families with excellent solutions and compassionate caregivers.
Recently our career and private lives intersected when our own mother spent a week in the hospital, because of Alzheimer’s, and she’s not even the one who’s suffering from it.
A little background: Mom and her husband of 20 years live in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and are among the many unfortunate people who lost their entire savings through fraudulently run funds controlled by Bernie Madoff. With nearly nothing left in their retirement fund, and well past their earning years, they’re forced to sell their home and everything they worked their whole lives for and decide where they might try to live off a small Social Security check.
Dad, a proud, self-made, successful businessman, watched all he had disappear, quite literally overnight, but somehow mercifully seems to have accepted the situation. Mom, too, somehow found the strength to emerge strong with a positive attitude…for a while.
When Dad began to exhibit forgetfulness, his doctors suggested he might be showing signs of early stage Alzheimer’s. This was the proverbial final straw. Mom, who had endured losing everything with no retirement Plan B, began to experience serious panic attacks, culminating in a suicidal depression that took a week of rest in a facility to address. It’s very often the caregiver, not the care recipient, who initially needs more help.
The day she checked in, I immediately flew down to see her. I had been on many home visits, witnessing firsthand the stress felt by family caregivers, many who have little or no relief from 24-hour care. Providing solutions as a career is more rewarding than can be described, but here alone with my mom, I experienced fear and grief on a more personal level. The destructive effects of many diseases begin earlier than physical symptoms and can affect the entire family of the sufferer.
Fortunately, I was able to share with her several important tips to cope with this time in her life. Many readers will have already experienced these various stages, and have implemented some of these strategies.
The very first thing you need to do is give yourself permission to have help. Even before seeking resources, family and friends, you must admit to yourself that you’re going to need help. There’s plenty of help out there. Your experience feels extremely personal, but it is not unique.
Take one day at a time and you can handle anything. Allowing yourself to experience fear for several weeks, months or years ahead of what hasn’t yet happened is not fair to yourself or those around you. Focus on what you still have, and enjoy it. Our fear fantasies never match our future reality.
Meeting with support groups is a must. You feel you have no time; you’re exhausted and the last thing you need is to meet new people. Respectfully, this is wrong. The first thing you need is to meet people who are on the same road you’re on but have traveled a bit further. This is where your fears are addressed and your questions answered, you find shoulders to lean on, and you are assured that there will always be others to share your worries.
You can find a list of Sussex County support groups at the Resource page at visitingangels.com/sussexde. Wherever you are in your journey, we have experienced, compassionate caregivers that can help. We will care for you and your family the same way we care for ours.
Call us at 302-329-9475 to discuss your needs today.