Tag Archives: caregiver health

Dementia and Isolation

Caregivers shoulder many burdens but social isolation  can be one of the worst. It sneaks up on us quietly while we’re looking after someone who is ill. But too much time without a social support network can damage our health as much as physical illness. We need many things, but friends are indispensable.

Between the Pond and the Woods

A zebra, a skunk? No, it’s a bird!

The people we care for also need to stay connected to others, despite the difficulty involved in arranging that. At different times, I’ve put energy into sending messages to my mother’s former neighbors, pals, and family members. I’ve often been amazed at the loyalty Mom’s friends have shown.

We can never know all sides of our loved ones. The roles they play when they’re away from us nurture parts of their personality that we may never see. My mom’s been sick for such a long time, I sometimes forget how dynamic she was in her prime. I’m reminded of that side of her when her friends come to visit. They reminisce about things she did, and the way she did them. They can still share those memories though she no longer recalls any of it.

A few weeks ago, a group of Mom’s old work colleagues hopped on trains in three different towns to reunite for an afternoon visit with my mother. Mom’s vitality is like the pale flame that burns from a very meager wick. It seems as if her spirit could be blown out by any sudden wind. But something in her friends’ voices was familiar and exciting to her. She looked them over with nearly blind eyes and said, “You came home!”

I don’t usually cry when I’m with my mother because I’ve witness change come to her in a very gradual way. I’m used to all of it. But when she gets a visit from someone who hasn’t seen her for a while, it always makes me weep. I expect them to be shocked by her decline or her inability to share much with them.

More often than not, I’m the one who’s shocked. I guess I’m surprised at how easy it is for them to keep loving her and appreciate who she was back in the old days. This is a great testament to my Mom — a person I didn’t always know. Parents go to great lengths to hide their true selves from their children. They can’t stay in charge if we are too able to see the fragile person behind the curtain. 

Although I hate what the disease has stolen from her, every now and then I am grateful for things it reveals. That visit from her buddies was one of those special moments.

Caregiver Advice: GO OUTSIDE!

Today is Sunday and it’s a beautiful day. Don’t hate me if I’m inspired to preach. My sermon will be short: GO OUTSIDE! While you think of all the obstacles that could keep you from doing that, here are some good reasons why you must.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Butterfly garden at Nescopeck State Park

A nice stroll and the smell of grass will go a long way to helping you feel good if you don’t have time to do more. This can be accomplished even if you need to cajole someone else to go with you — or push a loved one’s wheelchair. The Alzheimer’s site recommends the following joint outdoor activities to promote caregiver health:

  • Take a walk together outside to enjoy the fresh air
  • Go to the mall and stroll there
  • Garden or do other routine activities that you both enjoy

Do you need more reasons to go out and move around?

  • Research like the Evercare study shows that caregivers’ health suffers due to their lack of time and energy to prepare proper meals or to exercise. In this national survey, 60% of caregivers said that their eating (63%) and exercise  (58%) habits were worse than before.
  • A study by Haley, et al, showed that caregivers are at risk for increased mortality, coronary heart disease and stroke, particularly under conditions of high strain.

I’m ending the list here since almost everyone knows the bad news already. Instead, let’s consider the good news. The Mayo Clinic says that just a regular brisk walk can help you:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Prevent/manage heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes
  • Strengthen your bones
  • Lift your mood
  • Improve your balance and coordination

If that isn’t enough to get you off the couch, consider these sage words from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“In the woods, a man casts off his years…I feel that nothing can befall me in life — no disgrace, no calamity, which nature cannot repair. In the woods we return to reason and faith.” [from his essay on Nature]

I may be old fashioned, but I love reading Emerson’s tributes to nature and its power to transform the way we feel. Since I am a bit modern, too, I can also condense the forty pages of Emerson’s essay to one excellent idea: GO OUTSIDE!