Our Hero: The Family Caregiver

mid-age-womanCaregiving is an act of love.  You put so much of yourself in caring for your loved one, especially if he or she has dementia.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the average span of the disease is seven years and it can go on as long as 20 years.  The challenges only increase with time.

For most, the progression of the disease is slow.  In the beginning it offers a time for shared laughter, intimacy and social experiences.  You will have opportunities to manage legal and financial issues in advance, and to adjust to the diagnosis so that you can make the most of your time together.

This is also a good time to form a support team from your family, friends and perhaps professionals.  Getting respite and taking care of yourself leads to being a good caregiver.  Friends and family are glad to help if they help in a way that makes them feel comfortable.

Not everyone in your family will be good caregivers.  However, everyone in your family can help when you need a break.  Some members of your family may be financially fit and can help with expenses.  Others may be great at doing research and helping you solve problems and find the resources you need.  Everyone can certainly come, even if only a few times a year and give you respite.

I was fortunate enough to take care of my Dad in his last seven years of life.  My brother and nieces each took turns spending a weekend with him.   They got to spend quality time with their dad/grandfather.   My family is small.  Yet, I got away for a weekend break once a month.  That was sufficient so that I could give my all to my dad when I returned home.

Friends, neighbors and my church family lived much closer to me than my biological family.  They would bring dinners, run errands, and visit when they had a chance.  Many churches offer a ministry where they bring dinners on a regular basis.

In some instances you may also need to hire professional care.  I did.  I was still working while I took care of my Dad.  If you hire a trustworthy agency, they offer expertise that you may not have.  Many agencies have certified nurse’s aides who have taken courses on dealing with clients who have dementia.

Caregiving is an act of love and a 24/7 commitment.  You can heighten your experience if you form your support group early.  People want to help.  They just need to be asked and to give in a way they feel comfortable.  It makes them feel good.  It makes you and your loved one receiving care realize how much you both are loved.