Sometimes it is easy to pinpoint when you became a caregiver. Perhaps when your spouse, or parent, or friend had a sudden diagnosis or health emergency. And, all at once you were there to help and support, to remind and buoy them. Maybe it was a fall, a stroke, an accident but you know when and where and can easily refer to that date.
A Good Son
Last week this realization happened to a son, Robert, who we were speaking with. We were discussing his Father, Neal, and changes that were occurring. Robert lives 3 hours away and only sees Neal a couple times a month at most. But the house had been deteriorating and needed maintenance. Housekeeping since Mom had passed was neglected badly and “stuff” was piling up. There was a shortage of fresh food and a surplus of food well past its prime (or expiration). And, Neal was needing reminders to shower, cut his hair and nails. Even the neighbors were pulling Robert to one side to express their concerns when Neal was out of earshot. Neal was still driving and “taking care of himself” so Robert thought things were “ok”.
A Gentle Transition
But frequently the responsibilities of caregiving can sneak up on you. Gradually, you become more and more needed. Perhaps slowly you are spending more and more time, energy and emotional investment on another person. You had thought of yourself as a spouse or a friend or a child. But then…it happens. You realize that a change has occurred. Something is different. A tipping point has been crossed.
But Robert was given our contact information and was curious. At first our conversation was gentle enough. However, when we started asking Robert about whether they had all the legal stuff in order – wills, trusts, advanced healthcare directives, powers of attorney and where financial documents stood etc., then Robert became concerned and he realized that he didn’t know what he needed to know. He realized that his Father didn’t have the basics organized. He regaled us with a couple of stories about how Neal got lost a few weeks ago and how he gets anxious about appointments and calls Robert frequently to help keep his calendar. Robert told us how Neal may not be eating a balanced diet or taking his medications properly and how he tries to buy food and set up meds boxes whenever he is in town.
The “A-Ha!” Moment
And then he said it, ”Oh, my gosh! I have become my Father’s caregiver!”
With that sudden awareness he now became energized and even empowered to be a more valuable part of his Father’s life. He could now act with more authority and decisiveness because he realized that Neal’s happiness and health depended upon his wise choices and advice for his Father. We made some lists of concerns and action items for Robert and Neal. We shared resources such as attorneys and financial professionals. We encouraged Robert to be more pro-active in visiting doctors with Neal. Alternatively, we suggested that Neal move closer to Robert or that Robert hire a local geriatric care manager to help support them both.
And very importantly we reminded Robert to take care of himself too. Caregiving can be very demanding and stressful. There are support groups to help caregivers keep perspective. Caregivers need to maintain their own healthy activities physically, socially and nutritionally. It is too soon to report on the changes with Robert and Neal but with luck and diligence we think that they will have a great outcome.