By Wendy Mednick
How do you make that decision…….?
More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimers today. By the year 2050 this number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million. Statistics show that Alzheimers is the 6th eading cause of death in the United States. 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimers or another Dementia. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with cognitive impairment or any other form of Dementia, racking up over 18.6 billion hours and nearly 244 billion dollars in care. Deaths in the last 2 decades have increased by over 145%. People aged 65 and older survive an average of 4 to 8 years after diagnosis, with some living as long as 20 years with Alzheimers.
Caring for someone can be a long, and stressful intense emotional journey. Caregiving can also become all-consuming. As your loved ones cognitive, physical and functional abilities diminish over time, it is easy as the caregiver to become overwhelmed and oftentimes one's own health is neglected. The disease of Alzheimers or Dementia progresses differently for each individual, so too can the caregivers experience, it varies widely from person to person. Dealing with tending to a loved one's needs often creates an internal conflict. As a society, we have always depended on families to provide emotional support and assist their older aging family members, when they can no longer function independently.
There are conflicting values where care should come from for the aging population of today that is dealing with cognitive as well as physical impairments. Where does this care come from, whether it be a family member, assisted living facility, home health care, or a combination each family structure varies,often causing strain. The question then becomes can a family member care for the Alzheimer's/Dementia patient at home? The emotional rollercoaster for cure becomes a large focal point for many family caregivers,while some members wash their hands of the care situation, others jump in and break up the tasks at hand. There are financial decisions and healthcare questions, as well as living arrangement burdens that families encounter. Speaking with family members of those that are dealing with health related illnesses for their aging parents, I encountered many different perspectives regarding care. I spoke with a 56 year old female, with other siblings who recently had to deal with the failing health of both parents. Due to her being the only child in town, the care for her parents as well as health care and financial decisions solely landed in her lap. Tasks can be done from afar, however care needs to be done locally to be most effective .How does one balance their own life and make decisions for aging parents with health related issues? I asked the question, how was the decision made to be an advocate for your parents. The response was easy for her, one word, compassion….end of story! She explained that being a compassionate and patient person allowed her to become selfless,and emphasized how important it was not to lose yourself in the process.
Many I spoke with wanted their stories heard as to why they became a caregiver for aging parents. Talking with a 50 year old with siblings in town, and an aging mother with early signs of memory loss, had similar thoughts. Although her mother was living independently, she struggled with financials and medications. When asked why did you take on the task as caregiver, her response, my mom has always been there for me, I want to be a support system for her. She couldnt imagine being in her mom's shoes and not having someone there for her. her final thought was, I cannot allow a stranger doing this for my mother. I do it out of love, compassion and respect. She was also fortunate to have the love and understanding from her spouse. It is stressful to see your biggest advocate decline. She also stated never wanting to live with regret in the years to come no matter how challenging the situation became. Being a caregiver for her mother became a feel good feeling. Moments in the day that made her smile, creating memories together, helping her, and increasing her own self worth,ultimately creating a closer bond.
There are those stories that tell a different side of being a caregiver. Recently, a former colleague told me, what she thought might be a few weeks of caring for her aging father, turned into 4 years. A few months into this care, her mother passed. When she finally was able to pick up the pieces of her own life years later, and look for employment, nobody wanted her. She stated although she did receive many accolades from potential employers for dedicating herself and being a hero,however, the reality was for her no one hires heroes! Although she sacrificed prosperity for her aging parents, the joyous final moments she had with them was priceless.
Caring for an aging parent can have a myriad of emotions, and overwhelming at times. The stories previously stated are all too familiar to many. Caregiving is not a job that one applies for, It is a job that suddenly happens in the blink of an eye. Caregiving can be a family issue as well as individual. Do your homework, be proactive, research, develop and create a plan. Reach out to support groups,participate in courses, most importantly create your path that can become less of a struggle for you and all those involved.
I would love to hear your story regarding the choices you made with your aging parents. Perhaps by sharing your experiences it may give insight and or guidance to someone who is struggling with a loved one.
Stay Well….Stay Happy
Wendy Mednick was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, and has a BS/MS from SUNYBuffalo and SUC Buffalo. Owner WFM Development with 30 plus years in Sales, Business Development, and Project Management. She can be reached at email@example.com