Today is a very big day for my family, especially my grandpa, because my grandma is being moved to an assisted living facility. My grandma has been struggling with Alzheimer’s for, at least, the last 7 years. I remember the first time I thought something was a little off. It wasn’t even a big deal but for my grandma, who is typically VERY sharp, it was out of the ordinary. My immediate family and my grandparents had made the trip from California to Michigan to see me graduate from Calvin College. We had decided to get together for dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house so we could spend some quality time together away from the hustle and bustle of graduation. I was sitting in the kitchen chatting with my aunt while she was getting a lettuce salad prepared. My grandma walked in and started stating how that wasn’t a salad. She was very confused about what was being prepared in the kitchen. When questioned, she initially fought it as if she knew she was right; however, that soon faded when everyone’s faces began to wash over with confusion. She soon gave up and walked out of the room. I thought about that day for a while but soon it faded. This was the first of many early signs that my grandma was being attacked by the ugly disease of Alzheimer’s.
A few years later, it was very apparent what she was dealing with. I began consuming myself it reading about it and educating myself about the progression of Alzheimer’s and some tips of how best to interact with someone at different stages of Alzheimer’s. I soon called my grandpa to talk to him about it after I read the book, Still Alice. This book is a story
from the point of view of a person with Alzheimer’s, how it affected her life and her entire families’lives. Thankfully, this began a blooming relationship with my grandpa. Our family seemed to struggle with the acceptance that this was happening to the matriarch of our family. I can’t say I didn’t deal with these feelings, but I was more concerned with my grandpa, as he is not one to express his emotions and I knew he would do everything he could, no matter what, to take amazing care of my grandma, his wife of SO many years.
The same reason I was concerned for him is the exact reason why I find it important to discuss the main topic of my blog post. It’s not only Alzheimer’s awareness month, but it is also family caregiver’s month as well. So often the caregiver is overlooked as the focus is always on the declining health of the person with the disease. The latest statistics calculate that $400 billion of in-kind care is provided annually by family caregivers. An equally staggering number is the amount of family and professional caregivers that are succumbing before their loved ones or clients. Caregiver burnout is a state of exhaustion – mentally, physically, and emotionally. Burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are physically or financially able. Years can be taken off of a caregiver’s lifespan unless the caregiver can become more aware, change their perspective of becoming a martyr, pay attention to their own body and spirit, and gain energy through seeking help and reducing their anxiety. Jamie Huysman, a caregiving and addiction specialist, coined it best by saying that “Caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires that before caregiving you extend care to yourself. Only then will you the energy and spiritual strength to effectively care for another.”
As a counselor, I know the importance of self-care. People come in and tell you all about the issues they are facing in their
lives and clue you in to some of the terrible life experiences they have encountered. If a counselor was not good at self-care, they would take the emotional and mental pain from their client’s home with them. Mother Teresa states, “To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.” Begin celebrating Family Caregiver month today by checking in on your loved ones that are caregivers or checking the health of yourself if you are a caregiver. Reach out by calling a counselor,
finding area resources, find and spend time with friends, do something enjoyable like a hobby, meditate, or treat yourself to a pamper day. The more you care for yourself, the better you will be able to care for those around you.
Rachael Kool, professional counselor and normal, everyday adult screw up.