For about six years, I was a caregiver for my mom, who had Alzheimer’s. I was in my mid-forties when I began caring for her in 2006. My dad died from cancer when I was 31, and that caused me to really appreciate my mother. I was afraid to lose her, too. From that time on, she became my best friend.
An example of our friendship is when I went to live in Italy for bit in 1996. Luckily, cell phones had been invented. I called back home a lot. I would be visiting the beautiful sites of Venice or Rome and would call my mom or my sister to share the experience. I loved living in Italy but I didn’t want to leave my mom out of the adventure. Later that year, my sister brought my mom to visit me over Christmas and New Year’s. I took them to a few of the places I had told them about. My mom was at first hesitant to fly to Italy, but I was glad my sister was able to convince her to make the trip. My mom did love it, especially being able to see the Vatican and attend a local Catholic church in my neighborhood. After a couple of weeks, they went back home. And I returned home also, a little later. However, the final cell phone bill was a shocker. I had spent a lot more time sharing my stay in Italy than I had realized.
That might give you an indication of my closeness to my mom. In 2006, when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I initially took her to check out senior care facilities. When I noted her sad reaction, I decided it was best if I were the one to take care of her in her own home.
In 2009, my sister and I took my mom to Marbella, Spain for a week-long vacation. My mom’s Alzheimer symptoms were already progressing, but she was still alert enough to appreciate where she was – this country of part of her heritage.
I loved my mom and I was more than willing to stay home and tend to her needs. The first couple of years I was still able to work a bit, and would have a caregiver fill in when I wasn’t home. But as the illness progressed, it got harder to supervise the caregivers and work at the same time. I later realized everything was getting more difficult because I was also going through menopause. I didn’t have any real medical direction on how to deal with my symptoms, nor was I really aware what they were. All I felt was more worn down, and at that time, I just attributed that to caregiving.
In the last two years, I still had two very part-time caregivers, and one of those was a backup. In the later years, I would mostly just nap while they were there, and I wouldn’t even leave the house. It was a nice chance to rest.
It was difficult emotionally to see my mom’s outgoing personality change so drastically. Eventually, she wasn’t herself, and it was very sad to acknowledge that. It wasn’t only stressful that she didn’t know who I was, but also that she wasn’t even herself. The emotional rollercoaster that that disease takes on the caregiver as well as the person with the disease is dangerously dramatic. When you are in the midst of it, though, it happens subtly.
My mom passed away in May of 2012. In February of that year, we finally had to place her in an assisted living facility because she could no longer walk. With Alzheimer’s they forget how to do a lot of things.
Yet, to this day, I don’t care how difficult it all was — I still am so grateful that I was able to be my mom’s caregiver. I would do it again for her! That was something special I could only do for her, because after that, I am no longer physically nor emotionally able to do it for anyone else.
I would encourage people that if you have a family member who needs you to care for them, do it if you are capable. It’s a gift for both of you. I know there are certain relationships where people don’t get along, and then it’s best not to attempt it, if possible. I don’t recommend being a resentful caregiver. However, I also know that for financial reasons, sometimes people need to be caregivers for family members whether they want to or not.
I actually wrote an article about caregiving back in 2011, and fortunately, some advancements have been made since then. Many jobs allow more flexibility with family leave and paid time off. And more people are aware of the need for self-care all around.
I would never want to discourage anyone from caregiving. It wasn’t easy, and my body took a hit, but there are ways to make it doable.
- Make sure your health as the caregiver is well-addressed, with medical check-ups and attention. Keep your own doctor informed on your health status. Taking care of someone else will take a little extra from your own health reserves.
- If you are a woman of menopausal age, be sure your doctor advises you on how to manage it. It can interfere with your ability to cope, as your body struggles with changing hormones. Menopause is a struggle on its own, but if you are experiencing that while caregiving, then expect to be doubly depleted. My health is still in a bit of bad shape because of the neglect my body experienced. If I was able to keep my own body and mind strong, then I would be benefiting now. Instead, I’m still working on recovering. (However, part of my ongoing recovery is from some big life challenges that I experienced after my mom passed away.)
- For me, it was menopause, but for you it might be another health issue or special limitation that you need to address to save your own health. Whatever that might be, don’t downplay it; take care of yourself.
- Caregiving is a time to be selfless when caring for your family member, but you must step aside at certain points to make sure you are cared for as well. When you are caring for someone you know and love, it gets emotional.
- It’s important for the people around the caregiver to be understanding. Living with someone you are caregiving for is not life as usual. The people around the caregiver need to realize that, and not make unnecessary demands or put extra expectations on them.
- First and foremost, though, is the safety of the person being cared for. If a caregiver doesn’t feel suited for the task, then they should speak up. A person needing care doesn’t need any added burdens that an unhappy caregiver might bring. Be kind and speak up if that’s the case.
- And another important thing to note is that post-caregiving, no one should expect a caregiver of a family member to now be the designated caregiver for whomever needs one. When I was a caregiver for my mom, it was for her benefit. I wasn’t in training for a new vocation. And after my mom passed away, the last thing I sought to do was jump right back in to caring for someone else. I needed time to repair myself. It seemed some people now thought of me as a nurse, and that I would be more than willing to repeat the process for any family member or stranger. That’s when I had to remind myself that it’s good to be nice, but not to the point of being taken advantage of — because then you aren’t being nice to yourself!
- I am also aware that some caregivers are raising their children and living with their spouses at the same time. The strain of overextending yourself can easily get to be too much. Again, I would say to speak up if you need help, or are just in need of more compassion for what you are going through. It’s important to keep yourself balanced and in a good frame of mind.
- Maintaining a good attitude might even mean seeking out a therapist or a caregiver support group. I know talking my concerns out with a therapist helped me. It’s good to speak with a non-biased person, and also not to always vent only to your family and friends.
Caregiving can be the most rewarding thing you can do for a loved one. I would suggest caregivers keep it positive with lots of self-care, and a loving attitude. If you don’t have those, then don’t even attempt it.
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