I've been reflecting on the fun experiences my family and friends had this summer. My thoughts inevitably also turn to those with new health challenges and disabilities, and their caregivers, the people who are supporting them. I've learned that there are many wonderful opportunities to get out and create lasting happy memories, participate in things that bring joy, and still manage the care.
Vicky asks: I've been taking care of my mom who is 74, in poor health and lives on her own. We've never had a very close relationship, and she criticizes everything I do. It doesn't matter if it's house cleaning, taking her to appointments, or getting her groceries -- it's like I can never do anything to her satisfaction.
Kay asks: My husband has dementia and the symptoms are getting so bad that I feel like a prisoner in my own home. I am embarrassed to take him to our daughter's house for fear of what he might do or say. I don't want our kids or grandkids to see him act this way. I am not prepared for these changes and I don't know if I can manage for much longer.
My wife Karen was recently diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. We want to help but Karen gets frustrated when any of us try to do things for her, with the kids or around the house. I don't know how to be strong as the best husband, caregiver, and deal with my own fears about what's happening. Can anyone be a 'super caregiver'?
Todd asks: My parents are getting older and recently, mom has become afraid of falling. She often talks about friends who have taken a spill, and whenever they come over she tells me we should have a railing for our front steps. She's even avoiding rooms where our kids' toys are on the floor. Neither one of them have had a fall -- how worried should we be about this?
Rebecca asks: My grandmother is getting older and was recently diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer's Disease. She is still very healthy and independently living on her own. We have talked about her desire to remain at home and independent for as long as she can. How can we keep her safe in her home?
My mom's health has been deteriorating greatly over the past year. As an only child, I am her primary caregiver and this last hospital stay has really taken a toll on me. She gets very limited formal help and the rest of her care is left to me. I am so tired and can't concentrate on anything any more.
It is a well-known fact that taking on the role of the primary caregiver for a loved one is often so stressful and draining that it can take a toll on your well-being increasing your risk for chronic stress and depression. But studies have found that caregivers do reap real physical and cognitive rewards.
Yes, when I write about how a caregiver should take care of him or herself, I am talking to myself as well as to others. I know how hard it is. For two years, I did not leave my husband. Like so many others, I postponed my own doctor's appointments telling myself I didn't have the time, and turning down invitations from friends. But firm words from two doctor friends helped me decide to take the occasional afternoon for myself.