In the caregiver community, it’s a known fact that another caregiver’s experience can shed light and bring value to your own experience. We’re all in this together, focusing on the everyday needs of our loved ones while providing optimal care.
Brad, a co-worker of mine, is the primary caregiver for his 91-year-old mother who lives alone in the family home where he was raised. She’s located in a Northeast Ohio suburb, approximately 30 minutes away from him. He has a brother, who lives about two hours away and does not visit their mother often.
Brad is a hard worker who is dedicated to his career, his family, and his mother. But his priorities haven’t necessarily always fallen in that order. His weekends are spent shopping for his mother, cooking for her in her home, and taking care of any odd jobs needed around the house and property.
During the week, Brad pays a private caregiver to cook meals for his mother and assist with her personal care so he can be free to focus on work. At times, his mother calls him with an
unexpected need, typically due to an electronic mishap, or an issue in the home. According to Brad, some of the calls are valid, others are not. As a result of splitting himself between a
demanding career and caring for his mother, he has very little time for his own family.
Brad’s son is married and lives and works in Los Angeles. Brad looked forward to spending time with his son, who was finally able to visit from LA after a year and a half because of the Covid shut-down.
And then the call came……
His mother’s caregiver noticed that Brad’s mother was not speaking coherently, so Brad rushed to meet his mother and her caregiver at the hospital. As he took in his mother’s gibberish, he also noticed that her thinking process had become disoriented. He knew something was wrong and she needed to be evaluated immediately.
After inconclusive cursory tests, the attending ER physician intended to release Brad’s mother.
Brad pushed back, stating that more evaluations needed to be done. Naturally, he was
uncomfortable with bringing his mother home and feared for her safety. As her advocate, he
insisted that she remain in the hospital to have additional tests and be examined by a neurologist in order to determine a diagnosis. The ER Physician’s reasoning for releasing his mother was the hospital was being selective about admitting patients due to the Covid virus. But, after further discussion, the doctor agreed to admit his mother. Later, after additional tests, they discovered Brad‘s mother had a recent stroke. She was monitored for a few more days before being released to a skilled nursing facility for speech therapy.
The process moved quickly.
Although Brad felt disappointment about not being able to visit with his son, Brad believed he
should stay at the hospital to advocate for his mother due to her speech issues, and be on site to talk to the doctors about her plan of care.
In the meantime, he had to quickly select her skilled nursing facility. Fortunately, the hospital had reserved two floors for rehab and the decision was made to simply move her to another floor rather than to another facility.
The doctor informed Brad and his brother that their mother would need to be fully supervised
upon release from the skilled nursing facility, based on the medication they would give in order to prevent another stroke. She would become a fall risk with the new medication, but it would ensure she would no longer experience blood clots or remain at risk of having a stroke.
With this severe matter at hand, Brad and his brother were able to work out their differences and Brad’s brother, Tom, agreed to take on a more active role in their mother’s caregiving regimen.
Tom acknowledged his absence, and in return, promised to lend support in the process of moving their mother to an assisted living facility. They would need to sell their family home and the proceeds would go to Brad for his use and discretion to offset any payments their mother’s funds couldn’t cover.
Often negotiations of family roles on caregiving are negotiated late in the process. It would have been far easier for Brad and Tom to sit down in the beginning to negotiate their roles so Brad would not feel resentment for shouldering the entire caregiving role for their mom. His proximity to their mother was the deciding factor, but Tom could have helped in other ways.
Perhaps in providing an occasional respite to Brad on weekends to create personal time for himself and his family.
Also, although Brad’s income could accommodate a private caregiver’s wages for occasional weekend shifts, he failed to hire help. As a result, he regularly came to work exhausted and often with a negative attitude about his circumstances. By prioritizing self-care, he could have scheduled the proper amount of time and energy to replenish himself.
As caregivers, it seems natural to place our care recipient’s needs ahead of our own. We want to be our hero for our loved one and often forget about our own needs. This strikes the hardest at the time of an acute health event. It’s important to be mindful that, at these times, we must think about self-care so that we may provide the best advocacy for our parents.
How to Implement Regular Self-Care
1) Discuss your priorities with your spouse and devise a plan to handle your care recipient’s
needs in ways that are less intrusive on your personal life.
2) Balance self-care activities with care for your father or mother even during times of crisis or a health event.
3) Request help from family or other people you trust to lighten your load. Remember that you can’t be everywhere and do everything for everyone. Negotiate or renegotiate caregiving
roles as the needs of your care recipient change.
4) Get a good night's sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly. Consider daily meditation or other forms of relaxation. This is a high-stress period and your thought process can’t afford to be diminished by fatigue, anxiety, worry, or other emotional triggers.
5) Grant yourself time away in order to experience a balanced life and a more flexible routine.
6) Take advantage of the time your care recipient is in the hospital or a skilled nursing facility
to fit in time for yourself.
This does not mean you cannot be an advocate for your care recipient. It means you’re choosing to make the best of an opportunity to catch your breath and slow down for a moment. How else have you created opportunities to take a breather and fit in time for your mental and emotional health? Feel free to share it with your community by commenting below