On this day, the administrator took me to the activity room where I saw a basket of small towels sitting on a long table. “Some of the residents help fold these because it is something they can still do,” she told me.
My mind quickly fled to Bill who could no longer fold a towel. Nor could he tell time, write his name, follow a simple direction, dress himself or brush his teeth. This man was once a beloved pastor; a successful and sensitive clinical psychologist on the staff of three hospitals. He had a private practice always with a waiting list. Now he was devastated by Alzheimer's disease. In his free time he once built beautiful clocks, refurbished antique cars, hiked and biked with me and wrote lovely poems.
As the tour continued all I could see was Bill sitting in a chair feeling forgotten and isolated in spite of my daily visits. But I also knew that someday it might be impossible for me to meet his needs at home. I wanted to be prepared. He was already too heavy for me to lift; too forgetful to be left alone; and up at night so many times that I was surviving on 2-3 hours of interrupted sleep.
I was a caregiver. Caregivers do so much for those they care for. From tenderly changing diapers on an incontinent 85 year old father to assisting a child who cannot walk or talk or providing for an aging mother who no longer knows her children and more...lots more. Caregivers are all ages and each of them is as much a patient, i.e. as much in need of love and support as is the patient they care for. Caring for someone close to us, a spouse, a child, a parent presents issues of its own. Our investment is different and we are so close to it emotionally that self care becomes a challenge too many ignore. Taking a class or joining a support group as you care for someone close to you is all but essential. The price tag is high if we are not educated to the pitfalls, the needs, how to get help, and more.
Hopefully the powers that be behind medical insurance and Medicare will get some common sense soon and cover in home care. In the meantime you can help. Find out which of your neighbors are caregivers. They do not broadcast their needs. They are givers, after all. It is difficult for them to receive or ask for help. Ask at your church, talk to neighbors. When you find one, drop off a pie or a quiche; offer to sit with their loved one; or take the caregiver out for coffee (if they can free themselves to go) so they can just talk while you listen. And then go back...return often. Don't forget them.
Eventually most of us will be a caregiver or need one.