For years I never really thought about care givers much. I knew people who called themselves care givers and I just kind of glossed that over. How hard could it be? You’re there anyway; what’s so hard about helping someone out?
I am not afraid to admit when I am wrong and I have to tell you I was not only wrong on that one; I was so hugely wrong it was what slang now refers to as an EPIC FAIL. You all know by now that my mom suffered from Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) for about the last ten years of her life. As the disease progressed Dad gave up much of his life in order to care for her. My sister and I who live close helped as much as possible. But, Dad is not one to ask for help from his kids easily. It goes against the way he was raised. So it was quite some time before the truth began to sink into my thick skull.
As I spent more time with my parents I began to see. When Dad had open heart surgery in the summer of 2007 I understood perfectly. Yeah, care giving is a lot of every day stuff. But it’s an added weight of responsibility. It’s keeping track of medications and doctor visits. It’s comforting and calming when the loved one’s disease rears its ugly head. It’s being available 24 hours a day.
All entwined with the day-to-day responsibilities is the emotion. Watching a loved one suffer is hard; not being able to do anything to lessen the suffering is excruciating. Sometimes I think the toll on the mental health of caregivers is harder than the physical toll.
Thomas B. Grayboys is the author of Life in the Balance; a book about being struck in the prime of his life by a couple of devastating diseases. (You can read my review of his book here) He is a physician so he is acutely aware of what he faces. But, he is also a husband who is acutely aware of how his health affects his wife. He recently made this statement, “This journey with Parkinsons/Dementia ain't no picnic. Lest you hear whining about the "why me" syndrome, look to the right and see someone worse than yourself. My first book was lean regarding spousal support. If we do a sequel, we will address this issue.” It’s a potent reminder that illness doesn’t just affect the person who has it.
Despite the hardship of care giving most any care giver will tell you that they do it willingly. They may be tired and weary, but they would never walk away from the job. When you love someone you give until you just can’t anymore.
What can you do to help a care giver?
1. Offer to help out with household chores or errands.
2. Bring meals they don’t have to prepare.
3. Stay with their loved one even for a few minutes to allow them to step back from responsibility and renew.
4. Call them just to say, “Hi, how are you doing?” But, be cognizant that it might not be the best time to talk.
5. Ask about their loved one. Be careful to talk about their loved one as a person and not a disease.
6. Learn about the disease that is affecting their loved one.
7. Be a listening ear. Sometimes there is nothing you can do to help, but listen.
8. Remember that just because they talk about problems doesn’t mean they are asking for solutions. Sometimes they just need someone to hear what they are going through.