Posted on: September 11, 2018
Featured Expert: Christal Mihalo, LCPC
Growing up, I loved Saturday mornings! I would wake up early, grab my comfy blanket and head down to the basement to watch my favorite cartoons. One of my favorite cartoons was “Superfriends and the Hall of Justice”. I thought Wonder Woman’s invisible jet and magic lasso were awesome! I thought it was very cool that Aquaman was able to summon whales and dolphins! Who could forget the Wonder Twins? Each “super friend” came from a different background with unique gifts and powers. Each of them possessed their own personal strength. Bring them together and look out! By the end of the show, evil had been foiled again!
Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to navigate life as easily as in a 30-minute TV cartoon plot? One of the most difficult transitions I have had to navigate in life has been taking care of my sweet elderly father. Our mom had unexpectedly passed away. I jumped right in as Dad’s main caregiver. It made sense since I was the child who was living at the family home and my job, at the time, was flexible enough where I could work from home when needed. For the most part Dad was self-sufficient. Driving, monitoring his diabetes and getting out to spend time with friends here and there, were all things he could manage. A few years later my sister, brother and I started noticing Dad was struggling with his short-term memory. He was later diagnosed with dementia. It was absolutely horrible to watch Dad go from crisp thoughts, slapstick humor and “Mr. Fix It” abilities to being frustrated with thoughts not coming together as easily as they once did. We went through another transition when I started dating and eventually married my husband John. Anytime I took Dad for a Doctor’s appointment, I would go to introduce myself and hear “you’re the daughter getting married, we have heard about you!” “Congratulations!” Dad then said “yes, she is the one leaving me all alone.” He would start to laugh but I was not amused. This just added to the guilt I felt. I was very happy to have John in my life. At the same time, I struggled with being happy that John and I were planning our wedding while Dad was dealing with these health issues.
Dad’s health was getting trickier to deal with. We were struggling to get his blood sugar stabilized so there were a few ER visits, he started to forget to eat lunch and take his insulin, and he came home with a dent in his car, unsure how it got there. I had to go from part-time to full time work. I would help take care of dad in the morning and then go to work. My brother, sister and brother-in-law helped in the day and evening hours. We finally came to the point where we tapped into the VA for caretaking services 12 hours per week. This worked well for a couple of months. In the spring of this year, Dad completed another clinical exam. We learned that Dad’s diagnosis was consistent with Dementia with the likely underlying cause a mix of Alzheimer’s and Vascular Disease. Hearing this broke my heart. The recommendation was to increase care to at least 12 hours per day of supervised care with 24 hours being optimal. Another recommendation was to consider transitioning Dad into a more structured environment, such as Assisted Living, to help with additional monitoring along with medication management. We increased Dad’s caregiver services to 10 hours per day, 5 days a week. My siblings and I split the weekends. A recommendation that Dad was unhappy about was that he “retire” from driving. I thought this was a brilliant way of putting it. Dad was not happy but also did not feel completely stripped of his independence.
Eventually, my siblings and I realized that Dad needed more then what we could do. It was difficult at first, but after Dad repeatedly told me that he was lonely and taking care of the house became overwhelming, we all agreed that Assisted Living/ Memory Care was the next step. Dad was now on board. He is now living in an amazing program that is located in Naperville. His blood sugar is under control, he is eating regularly, and he is becoming more engaged with the other residents. His sharp-witted humor has returned! All this brings our hearts joy.
If you are dealing with a situation similar to what I have described, please know that you are not alone.
One of the things I struggled with is that self-care sounds selfish. Please hear me when I tell you it is not. If you do not make yourself a priority, while being a family caregiver, you are at an increased risk for depression, physical illness and a decrease in your quality of life. You cannot put yourself on the backburner!
I found that www.caregiver/org to be a great resource!
The tools listed on this site are right on!
Tool # 1 – Reduce your own personal stress (having the support of my best friends, husband, family, faith and my church played a huge role for me)
Tool #2 – Set goals for yourself (this can be planning a break, asking for help, and if people are volunteering to help, take them up on it!)
Tool #3 – Seek solutions (to help reduce doctor appointments, I reached out to Northwestern’s Home Health Care team. Being that Dad was pretty much homebound, we were able to get a primary doctor and nurse coming to the home. In turn, they knew additional resources that would also come to the home – vision, dietitian, etc.)
Tool #4 – Communicate constructively (using “I” Statements to describe how you are feeling and being respectful of others’ thoughts and feelings)
Tool #5 – Ask for and accept the help! (This seems simple but can be hard to do! I still have to catch myself in order to not over do. When our family was trying to get ideas regarding an Assisted Living/Memory Care program, I tapped into our very own Community Relations Manager – Amanda Kunzer)
Tool #6 – Talk to a physician (our doctor and home care team have been awesome to work with in meeting our family needs)
Tool #7 – Start to exercise – going for a simple walk can help to clear your head! I enjoyed landscaping and walks at our local park.
Tool #8 – Learn your own emotions! (Those feelings of guilt, frustration, anger and resentment can sneak up on you! Talking to your best friend, another family member, support group, a pastor or a counselor can help give you perspective.)
Patience and keeping your sense of humor are very important!