When Mom passed away Dad made his home with my sister. A few times a year she would take a vacation to rest and recharge her batteries. When that occurred Dad would come and stay with us.
Moving him to our home was no easy task. There were his dozen or so prescriptions, his week's supply of undergarments, many changes of clothing and several pages of legal documents and instructions. Dad was on a restrictive diet which meant grocery shopping for special food items.
Our mornings typically began at 5 a.m. so that Dad could read his morning devotional guide, take his pills, and enjoy his breakfast. While he ate I buzzed around getting ready for work. By 6:45 we were out the door following two additional trips to the restroom.
Things often got rushed getting him slowly into the car and delivering him safely to the adult day care center. With a hug, "Have a nice day. I love you. See you around 5:30 tonight," I continued on to work which was an hour away in order to arrive at the office by 8 a.m.
Please understand, I'm not complaining. It was what it was. Dad had cared for us and now we were honored and humbled to return the love.
Although Dad was diagnosised with Shay Dragger's disease (a disease that mirrors many of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease) he could be quite independent. Dad had a great sense of humor and was abundantly grateful for the smallest acts performed on his behalf.
If it were not for the adult day care center Dad attended five days a week, my sister would have had to quit her job. I would have had to take vacation or personal time when he stayed with us.
The adult day care center offered us services like an on site nurse, physical therapies, podiatry services, beauty/barber services and bathing, provided him snacks and noon meals that were nutritious and met his special dietary needs. The social contacts with his peers kept Dad engaged. He loved visiting with his friends.
But even more than that, the staff provided dad with a friendly, safe environment that he looked forward to each and every day. Dad was greeted with a hug and a smile. He would return home tired but it was a good tired. He was so excited to share the events of HIS day. How cool is that!
Currently in the United States nearly one out of every four households, 22.4 million households are involved in caregiving to persons aged 50 or over. By the year 2007 that number could reach 39 million.
The impact of caring for a loved one takes on an entirely new life when we look at the "working caregiver." 25% of all workers are currently providing some type of elder care.
Among working people, two-thirds report having to rearrange their work schedule, decrease their hours or take unpaid leave in order to meet their care giving responsibilities. Working Caregivers deal with the day to day stress of taking care of a loved one and deal with their employer who is not happy that the workday schedule has been disrupted.
Caregiving is an emotional journey of mountain tops and valleys. Our mountain tops are found in the knowledge that in caring for our loved ones we are given the awesome opportunity to demonstrate our love and commitment. Our valleys are found in exhaustion, inadequate knowledge in regard to available resources, and continuous care which can lead to burnout, stress and depression.
As we were growing up my parents taught us that we could do anything! Well let me tell you that if we discovered nothing else in our caregiving journey it was that we really could do this...but not by ourselves. It literally took a team of doctors, social workers, adult day, extended family and friends.
If you are a caregiver, you do not have to "go it alone." Just the fact that you are reading this publication is healthy proof that you are seeking companions to accompany and assist you on your journey. There are people, resources and information available.
It is as simple as doing a word search on Google or Yahoo "Caregiving", "Elder Services", "Caring for a parent/spouse" and the like. Look in your phone book and call your local adult day care center or senior center. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging (usually found under Social Services).
Remember caregivers, if you truly believe that you want the best for your loved one, believe also that your needs are just as important. If you try to "go it alone" and your health suffers who will be there to take your place?
Self denial of your needs could kill you...blunt but true. Caregivers must balance their needs in order to fulfill the needs of those they are caring for.
The balance of love and being a caregiver is a wonderful journey. My family does not regret one moment of the time we spent nor the sacrifices we made.
We developed an awesome respect for those who were companions on our journey and those who supported our desire to be the best caregivers possible.
Contributed by Tom Begert-Clark, President/CEO of Even As We Speak® He is a Life Skills Trainer, Consultant, Motivational Specialist and Humorist. He is the Author of "Rosie John Doesn't Live Here Any More…One Family's Journey In Eldercare" (Read our book review)
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