Monday, November 9, 2015

An Unsung Hero: The Family Caregiver

Throughout November I'm teamed with four other authors of Alzheimer's books, sharing information about the disease for National Alzheimer's Appreciation Month, National Caregivers Appreciation Month, and National Memory Screening Week, which just passed, although it's always a good time for a memory screening. It's a busy month. Today I'm featuring another guest post by my friend Vicki Tapia, author of Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia.
Vicki Tapia

My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s-related dementia and a few months later, my mother with Alzheimer’s disease. That was the year I became a family caregiver. While my parents didn’t reside with me, I was still intimately involved in their daily care for the next 4 and 5 years. While I cannot tell you it was easy or even pleasant traveling down that rabbit hole of dementia, for me it was a time of personal growth, as we maneuvered through the disease’s many challenges. Interspersed with those challenges were moments of tenderness and brief, fleeting times of lucidity in one or the other parent that I still cherishI learned to parent my parents with patience and compassion; caring for them, much as they’d cared for meas a child, so many years ago.

How many of us actually plan on being an unpaid caregiver? Whether it’s a spouse, parents or a well-loved aunt, it’s unlikely most of us ever anticipate the reality of wearing the label “caregiver. As the boomer population continues to age, the number of unsung heroes caring for a family member is on the upswing. According to the report *Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, there are currently an estimated 34.2 million American adults taking care of a loved one 50 years or older. Can you believe that 86% of them are women?

Caregiving can be overwhelming, both emotionally and physically, bringing with it a myriad of emotions, all of which I experienced at one time or another, including:
• Frustration
• Helplessness 
• Anger
• Sadness, 
• Depression 
• Guilt

Caregiving can be lonely! At times, I remember feeling like I was on a deserted island, with nary a person who really understood what it was like

At a caregiver’s meeting where I spoke recently, 2 women approached the podium afterwards to share their stories. One woman told me her spouse with Alzheimer’s is slowly becoming more than she can handle, but her children are insisting that she keep him at home. The other woman suspects that her elderly father, who lives next door to heris showing signs of dementia, but he refuses to go to the doctor. They were both searching for answers. Like growing old, caregiving is not for sissies. 

What I sensed from these two women were symptoms of what experts label caregiver burnout, a very real phenomenon and a number one reason why it’s imperativfor all caregivers to recognize the importance of self-care

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, I encourage you, please make time for a doctor’s visit.
• Anxiety
• Irritability 
• Social withdrawal 
• Sleeplessness
• Exhaustion 
• Poor concentration
• Weak immune system.

*Caregiving in the U.S. 2015 – A Focused Look at Caregivers of Adults Age 50+ was published by The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and the AARP Public Policy Institute.                                                               

Vicki’s memoir details the daily challenges, turbulent emotions, and many painful decisions involved when caring for two parents with dementia. Laced with humor and pathos, reviewers describe the book as brave, honest, raw, unvarnished, as well as a must-read for every Alzheimer's/dementia patient's family.
For a selection of other great books that shed light on Alzheimer's please visit #AlzAuthors.

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