Father’s Day and “The Longest Day” commemorating Alzheimer’s Awareness are on the same day this year. For me, that is a meaningful overlap. My father was a caretaker to my mother, who fought against Alzheimer’s disease for her last 8 years. Watching him struggle to be a caretaker and nurturer (the natural role for my mother) was both difficult and inspirational.
In a lot of ways my father was “old school” in how he raised us: we dressed up for church, we cleaned our plates, and we were raised to not spend money on unnecessary items. He was raised during the depression and was very frugal.
In other ways my dad was ahead of his time: he encouraged his girls to play sports, and insisted his daughters go to college and start a career. During my high school years he even became a sort of “stay at home dad”. He worked part time so my mom could pursue her passion in nursing to be a Charge Nurse for one of the first Memory Care facilities in our area. Way ahead of his time!
The Longest Day
The longest day of the year, or the summer solstice, is the day with the most light. The Alzheimer’s Association encourages people to be “Solstice Champions” and shine the light on the darkness of Alzheimers by getting involved. For people struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, and for their caregivers, the darkness from this disease can be overwhelming. Frustration, depression, and frequent difficulties can arise for the patient, families and the caregivers.
Watching my own father struggle to be a caregiver was difficult and instructive. I have developed compassion for patients and families dealing with this devastating illness. My Mother had always stressed the importance of the family caregiver being cared for while she was managing her Memory Care Unit. Caregivers definitely need care and attention as well as the patient!
One Day at a Time
I am so grateful that my siblings and I were able to wade the difficult waters of caregiving and keep our relationships intact. There is tension and pressure for the family as they make tough caregiving decisions. Here are a few thoughts that helped us manage…
- Consider each other’s abilities in caregiving: some people are able to provide personal care, while other people may be better with financial issues. Allow people to use their strengths to assist. Don’t be the caregiver that doesn’t allow others to help. A caregiver must take care of themselves to last for the long haul.
- Consider each other’s weaknesses in caregiving. There may be areas that are difficult for people to participate in: wound care, bathroom activities, time constraints due to jobs, travel, or family needs. My family was gracious with me as I lived over 1000 miles away. I attempted to provide regular phone calls, visits, and health recommendations as much as I was able.
- Consider the entire family: your preference of placement may not be what is best for your loved one, or for your family as a whole. A noisy or busy home, or a house with tight spaces and lots of steps may be unhelpful.
- Be prepared ahead of time for the next transition. Get information from a geriatrician, neurologist, or social worker. Discuss multiple options and be prepared with the best and most up to date information.
- Don’t wait to discuss end of life decisions. Have an idea of the path you may take, communicate cautiously and regularly, and take it one issue at a time.
- Keep your loved one as engaged as possible: games, readings, photos, and music from their past provide joy for them. I remember my mother lighting up to hear old hymns and familiar passages, and to look at photos of the family.
- Most importantly, be forgiving of each other. Emotions and feelings may be amplified with emergent situations. Extend kindness, offer apologies when you overreact, and give each other grace.
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I would love to hear what you think. What other advice would you give to a caregiving family? Join my email list for regular senior care information and encouraging posts.