Quality of Life
Sally Abrahms’ article linked above does a fantastic job of addressing some common emotions felt by the family caregiving community – those who provide free caregiving services to their loved ones. Let’s look at the three emotions she mentions and also look at the struggles many caregivers experience at their place of employment.
Grief. We grieve the loss of the person who is still with us. “When someone dies, it is an overwhelming and horrible experience, but it is the end of something,” says Suzanne Mintz, cofounder of the National Family Caregivers Association. “But with a caregiver, the grief is perpetual; it goes on and on and on.” Until you’ve experienced the ambiguous loss of your loved one, you can not say that you understand that particular type of grief. This ambiguous loss may result from a loved one’s dementia, debilitating disease, or other conditions that rob the patient of their physical or cognitive abilities. Ms. Mintz states that when one person receives a diagnosis, you both receive the diagnosis. You both experience the gradual loss of the life you once had and you know it won’t be coming back. That is a grief that keeps on giving because as time goes on, more and more of one’s previous abilities disappear right before your eyes.
Guilt. “I wish this would all be over so I can get my life back.” Oh my gosh, did I just say that? Many of you have felt that way and then struggled to rid yourself of the ensuing guilt. But guilt is constant – whether it manifests itself in believing that you are not doing enough for your loved one, not doing enough for your family, feeling negative towards the one receiving your care – it is constant. And it is normal. These negative feelings don’t make you a bad person. Rather, they are proof that you are a sensitive, aware and evolving being who hasn’t yet perfected the art of living.
Exhaustion. Physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion sneak up on you and if not attended to early enough, they are killers. In my article, Caregiver: put on your oxygen mask first, I address the need to place yourself as more important than the person for whom you are providing care. “Gee, that’s pretty darn selfish!” Not at all. If you get what I’m talking about, you’ll agree that your loved one’s care is fully reliant on your ability to provide it. You can’t do so if you are on the brink of exhaustion, or worse, you die before your loved one, which is more common than you would like to think. You need a caregiving team. That team may consist of other family members and/or neighbors and acquaintances. You can’t do it all by yourself. If you’re a solo caregiver, check out the article, Solo Caregiving. This article provides tips on how to get the help that you need from those around you.
Discrimination. According to the recent report, Protecting Family Caregivers From Employment Discrimination, “roughly 42% of U.S. workers have provided unpaid elder care in the past five years” and that number is expected to rise to about 49% by the year 2017. With so many family caregivers out there, especially with the incidences of Alzheimer’s and other dementia on the rise, we all hope that employers will be more inclined to help their employees. But discrimination does occur in the workplace in the form of: limited schedule flexibility, denied leave or time off, and even dismissal from ones job.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects some caregivers but is an imperfect protection that is not required of employers with fewer than 50 employees. Additionally, of those employers required to adhere to FMLA guidelines, the employee must have been with their company for at least twelve months and have worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous year. With no FMLA protection, your job is at risk – especially in an economy when so many other workers would be glad to put in the hours that you’re not able to fulfill.
A word to employers. I know that it’s hard to maintain success while some employees just aren’t pulling their weight. But I think you’ll agree that some of you need to be more sensitive to the struggles experienced by your caregiver employees – employees who have never let you down prior to this difficult time in their lives. These exhausted souls can’t tread water fast enough – won’t you help them? Please do what you can to make reasonable accommodations that will lessen this temporary turn of events in your employees’ lives.
Sit down some day and take the time to write down as many experiences of loss that you can recall during your lifetime. Quite naturally, you will list times of grief resultant from a death in the family, grave illness, and the like. But there are other losses that we experience that can have just as much of an impact on our lives. The end of a marriage is one of those.
The article linked above does a great job at shining the spotlight on the loss that is experienced when a marriage ends through divorce. Even if both parties to the marriage come to a mutual decision on the matter, the parties oftentimes enter a period of mourning. Understandably they feel a certain sense of relief at the conclusion of the divorce process, but a feeling of loss becomes a very unexpected part of their lives going forward.
My thanks to this Blogger for giving couples permission to acknowledge the loss they are feeling at the dissolution of their marriage – even one for which they were both on board.
Historically, it’s the adult children who move back into the parents’ home, oftentimes because of financial issues. Apparently that is no longer the sole definition of multi-generational living.
In a USA Today article, Who’s moving in? Adult kids, aging parents, Haya El Nasser writes, “(A)bout one in seven say they already have a ‘boomerang kid’ – an adult child who moves back home – or elderly parent living under their roof.”
This brings about two unexpected events:
- The parents who enjoyed their empty nest and started to reestablish themselves as a couple, instead of just as parents, suddenly have an adult living with them who just happens to be the kid they gave birth to 30 years ago; or
- The adult child who strove to establish his home with his spouse and their 2.5 kids suddenly have a parent living with them requiring just as much attention, if not more, than the young children they themselves brought into this world.
The USA Today article above focuses on a rising trend towards families deciding to purchase larger homes than they would have previously considered with the anticipation that it would be more economical to have other adult family members living in – and contributing to – the same household. Talk about a paradigm shift! Stephen Melman, director of economic services at the National Association of Home Builders says, “I remember when I was in college, no one wanted to be near their parents.” That thought certainly resonates with me. When I was single in my 20s and early 30s there was no such luxury of renting a place on my own and living-at-home was definitely not an option. At one time I had two roommates so all three of us shared the same bathroom, kitchen and common living space. Inconvenient and not as private as we would have liked? Certainly – but the only way to afford housing and have the ability to put away money for our future was to split costs with other like-minded adults.
A Pew Research report earlier this year showed that “the share of Americans living in multi-generational households is at its highest since the 1950s.” OMG! As a Baby Boomer who was born in 1953, I just have to repeat, “OMG!!!!!”
My focus today is on the caregiving issue – that adult children and/or Baby Boomers find themselves with the added responsibility as caregiver to a loved one. In my article Start your retirement – start your job as a family caregiver I address the caregiving aspect of Baby Boomer retirement which sometimes evolves into multi-generational living. Our quality of life definition tends to change as family caregiving is added to our lives. But it’s a fact of life for many of us and one that very few can escape. But herein lies the problem…
Most of us aren’t prepared for that eventuality. Those of us who are counting the days until retirement kid ourselves into believing that caregiving happens to others, not to us. And our adult children find it difficult to wrap their minds around that type of living scenario whilst in the midst of their hectic career development and ever-changing family dynamics.
So what happens? We find ourselves in an emergent situation that requires immediate action that may not be well-thought out because we don’t have the time to make a well-informed decision. We all know that the worse time to make a life-changing decision is in an emergency. There is a wealth of information available at our fingertips – the worldwide web is replete with helpful resources. Even this website has many articles written on the subject. As you browse through this website’s categories, be sure to enter a search term in the “Search My Site” box located at the right-hand side of each content page.
I’m not suggesting that you finalize plans that might not be implemented until many years down the road – or at all. What I am suggesting, however, is that we all become aware that a) these issues exist and could very well happen in our own lives; and b) we’re going to do what we can now to make wise decisions later.
When the Mind Says Goodbye is a thoroughly touching mini-video (less than 5 minutes long with beautiful music accompaniment) chronicling a married couple’s journey as best friends in early childhood, all the way through their marriage – currently a more than 87 year-long relationship.
This couple, George and Adriana Cuevas, show us how a lack of words does not have to limit ones ability to relate to, and comfort, a loved one. I hope you will take the time to observe this loving couple as they walk through the hallways of Adriana’s memory care unit, and as they sit side-by-side with only touch and eye contact as a communicator.
It seems to work for them. How lovely that their marriage commitment lives on, even when the mind has already said goodbye.
Get ready everyone – there are so many worthy-of-mentioning “holidays” in November, you’ll be blown away!
- Peanut Butter Lovers Month
- Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month www.alz.org
- National Hospice Month www.nhpco.org
- National Adoption Awareness Month – my favorite because both my sister, and my niece, are adopted and my life is better as a result! www.adoptioncouncil.org.
Some of the daily celebrations:
1st: Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day
2nd: Plan Your Epitaph Day – would you trust just anyone to tell the truth?
6th: Marooned without a Compass Day – a/k/a Election Day
7th: Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day
8th: Cook Something Bold Day (well, it is Peanut Butter Lovers Month!!!
11th: Veterans Day – thank you every Vet of past & present military conflicts!!!
12th: National Pizza with the Works Except Anchovies Day
13th: World Kindness Day – pass it forward everyone!!!
15th: Clean Your Refrigerator Day and America Recycles Day – it figures.
15th: Great American Smokeout – see November 19th if participating
17th: National Adoption Day – I love you Mary and Kristina!!!
19th: Have a Bad Day Day – see November 15th
22nd: Thanksgiving, followed by…
23rd: Sinkie Day – casual eating while standing at your sink www.sinkie.com
23rd: Black Friday – the busiest shopping day of the Holiday season and Buy Nothing Day (I don’t make up the rules)
26th: Shopping Reminder Day – do we really need this reminder?
30th: Stay at Home Because You’re Well Day – because it’s more fun than staying home when you’re sick!
I strongly encourage you to read the above article. Too often physicians with insufficient training on elder-health issues dismiss the early signs of Alzheimer’s or other dementia as simply being age-related developments. Doing so presents the risk of missing the small window of opportunity in which to treat cognitive issues early on, rather than when they have fully taken up residence in a patient.
Sure, there’s nothing yet that prevents or cures the disease, but being able to manage the symptoms early on certainly adds to the quality of life that both the patient, and their loved ones, seek to experience.
For those of you who have taken on the role of advocating for your loved one: when you escort your loved one with early memory loss or confusion to the doctor’s office, do not back down when he/she concludes the symptoms are to be expected due to advancing age. NO! Those symptoms could very well be indicative of disease-related dementia, OR the symptoms could be caused by medication side-effects (blood pressure medication, seizure medication and the like) or other medical conditions, such as urinary tract infection (UTI.)
It’s all about advocacy. Do you go the easy route and take the doctor’s word for it, or do you push for worthwhile diagnostics to rule out any other serious or life-changing causes?