The 25 Hour Day
Marie’s 75-year-old husband was losing his memory. At first, he forgot small things. But over time, it progressed to larger, more significant memory problems. He became disoriented and would get lost. A trip to the neurologist brought a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Marie and her family were devastated. But Marie had the hardest job. Day in and day out she took care of her husband who became increasingly disabled. Marie was exhausted and depressed. Not only was she losing the husband she loved and knew, her daily responsibilities of coping with his disability were overwhelming. She felt alone and lonely.
Jim’s wife was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. Her diagnosis was quickly followed by surgery, radiation, and chemo. It was all a blur. She was exhausted and Jim, in addition to working full time, took on all of the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, laundry, and everything else. His adult kids lived in another state and as supportive as they were, he felt isolated. Many of their friends weren’t sure how to help and waited for Jim to ask them for help. But he was very independent. It was hard for him to ask for assistance.
My mother-in-law, Esther, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in her early 70’s. She became increasingly disabled. My sister-in-law, who lived nearby her parents, took care of her and her Dad into their late 80’s. She made huge sacrifices to care for her parents at the expense of her children and her husband. While it was a labor of love—her family bore the biggest cost.
Sound familiar? Do you know someone who is taking care of an ill or disabled relative? Most of us have either heard this story from friends and relatives, we have lived it ourselves, or we are facing it in the future.
In the United States, over 5.5 million adults are diagnosed with dementia, with a new person diagnosed every minute. Over 15 million caregivers care for those with dementia. Over 1.6 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer every year. Each year, 60,000 adults are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. We are living longer—but the needs of the elderly are growing too.
Caregiving is a huge challenge for adult children, relatives, and spouses.
What can caregivers do to maintain their wellbeing?
- Take care of yourself. It’s essential not to neglect your own needs. Exercise, take some time for recreation and visit friends. It’s hard to do this! But it’s necessary to:
- Ask for help. Most friends and relatives want to help, but they are waiting for direction. They are nervous about overstepping their bounds or intruding. At the same time, many independent adults have a hard time asking for aid. Don’t be shy! It takes a small village to care for an elder, ill, or disabled community member.
- Offer help. My good friend Tracy and his wife take care of his 97-year old mom, Dixie, who lives with them. I have lunch every week with Tracy and his Mom. His wife gets a couple of hours off to do whatever she wants. And Dixie and I have become close over the years. Offer to help your friends and family in concrete ways. Don’t wait for them to speak up!
- Attend support groups. There are disease specific caregiver support groups where adults can find help. Coming up on May 20th, from 9am-12 noon, a free “Family Caregiver Mini-Retreat” sponsored by and held at the Providence Regional Cancer Center in Everett will help caregivers, regardless of what kind of illness or disability their loved one has, find nurture and help. For more information and registration, call 425-297-5520.