There’s a big difference in knowing something from common sense and knowing it from experience. There are things that you have to experience or watch a loved one experience before the full impact of the need is seen. Caregiving is one such issue.
My father told me once, when we took our mother on a trip that we were “Lerts.” It was a humorous way to tell us we had to be alert of every aspect of our mother’s condition. Being a caregiver means you are a “Lert” full time.
This extends into other areas. To be aware of how (and what) your relative (and patient) is doing, you have to be constantly listening. Every little sound can be a slight shift of the newspaper, or your patient bending over and in danger of a nasty fall.
This also translates into light sleeping. You will find yourself literally sleeping with one ear open. Deep sleep is nearly impossible if you are the sole person dealing with the situation.
There is a lot of physical effort involved in most cases. If your patient is at least partially ambulatory, the effort is a little less, but still there. You’ll need to help them get up, sit down and even get their legs back on the bed from a sitting position. You may need to offer an arm or shoulder so they can safely walk, even if it’s only to and from the bathroom.
Bedridden patients offer even more difficulties, though there are a few mechanical aids that can make life easier for you and them. A sling can help you get them up and into a wheelchair or other necessary seating. That will also help when you have to change the sheets.
All of this takes a mental and emotional toll as well. This is especially true if it’s one or both of your parents. The role reversal can cause anger, pain, depression and many other emotions. It’s not unusual to cry more easily or become frustrated with things that would otherwise seem minor.
If you are the caregiver, I have some advice from personal experience. I just got back home from a sixteen day “tour of duty,” taking care of an ailing relative. I’m home because I realized I could not handle things well without a break. My relative does not need my emotions on top of her own.
If you have other relatives who can take up the care, do your best to recruit them. If not, or if all of you need a break, there are agencies that can help. Many Medicare patients qualify for in-home help twenty hours a week. Other agencies, which vary by state, may also be able to help.
If you know that your relative has only a little time left, you can call in hospice care. These people are wonderful. They’ll provide you with the breaks you need, explain what’s going on with your relative and be there for you when the end comes. They know who to contact and what to say. All of that is important in this situation.
If you are the relative of the main caregiver, please take what I have written to heart. You are needed. It’s not a whim, nor is it something that should be offered grudgingly. You will be surprised at the gratitude an offer of respite can cause.