I recently read a disturbing news report about a 69-year-old man in Florida who apparently killed his 89-year-old mother and then committed suicide. Police reported that he left a note stating that his mother, who lived with him, had advanced Alzheimer’s disease and that he was having extreme difficulty caring for her. The story absolutely breaks my heart. While I have certainly never felt that low, as a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s, I do have some insight into the feelings of overwhelming hopelessness this man must have endured to be driven to such a horrific action.
When Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, I knew he would need all of his senses to help interpret the world around him and balance his changing cognitive abilities. But he has hearing impairment and limited vision (glaucoma plus visual-processing problems associated with Alzheimer’s). Even though there is only so much I can do about the visual issues, I assumed hearing aids would solve his auditory problems. I was wrong. The good news is that we eventually discovered a surprisingly simple solution.
I have been both a live-in caregiver and a long-distance caregiver. In fact, currently, I’m really both. My dad lives with me (as do my sister and her two sons at the moment), and I also travel for work, about a week every month. I’ve learned to manage my loved ones’ care no matter where I am. Here are some of my tips for other long-distance caregivers.
The way Alzheimer’s disease has ravaged my dad’s capabilities is especially hard to bear during holidays. I wish he could more fully participate in and enjoy our family traditions. So often it seems that he just doesn’t understand, and the meaning is lost for him. Recently, though, he gave me my most unexpected and treasured Christmas gifts ... and taught me invaluable lessons at the same time.
I recently had the great pleasure of representing AARP on The Doctors to share some of my top caregiving tips, give away copies of my new book, Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving and tell everyone about AARP’s Random Acts of Kindness for Caregivers contest. (You can watch the segment, below.) It made me think about what I really want for Christmas this year and it’s exactly that: small kindnesses that free my time, nurture my soul and minimize the stress of the holidays while maximizing the joy.
Now, in the thick of the holiday season, many of us who are family caregivers are facing even more stress than usual, with relatives' visits and extra items on our to-do lists. That makes this a perfect time for us to connect with our fellow caregivers for support and advice. While we can't all gather in-person, of course, Caregiving.com came up with something much easier: a virtual Holiday Progressive Blog Party, and I’m thrilled to participate. Visit the site to find links to a range of caregiving blogs and — if you blog, too — share information about your own.
Thanksgiving is approaching and families across the nation will be gathering to eat, maybe watch TV and, I hope, enjoy time together. But one of the most common questions I get this time of year is, “How can I get the generations in our family to interact more?” This year I have a great answer: Participate in StoryCorps’ Great Thanksgiving Listen using its new free app.
I’m excited about AARP's current caregiving awareness campaign, to recognize and support America’s 40 million family caregivers. The campaign coincides with November’s National Family Caregivers Month.
Recently, I appeared on the Today show with Kathie Lee and Hoda to share some of my best tips for caregivers. The segments go by in a flash, so I thought I’d share a bit more about each of the tips I discussed on the show (see the video below).
I’m pleased to report that many AARP state offices are hosting free screenings across the nation next month of The Theory of Everything, the 2014 film about astrophysicist Steven Hawking’s early struggle with ALS. It’s part of AARP’s efforts to highlight November as National Family Caregivers Month, in conjunction with the organization’s I HEART CAREGIVERS initiative. (Check with your AARP state office to find out if there is a screening near you.)
Like so many other family caregivers, I often place my own care on the back burner because I’m focused on the immediate needs of those I’m caring for. But that self-neglect eventually catches up with me — sometimes dramatically. I share one eye-opening experience in my new book, Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving. An excerpt:
When I tell people I’m caring for my 91-year-old dad who has Alzheimer’s disease, they look at me sympathetically and say, “I don’t know how you do it.” When they learn that I also cared for my grandmother when she had Alzheimer’s, they gingerly ask, “Are you afraid of getting it yourself?”