This week I’m writing to thank readers for their many visits to the Between the Pond and the Woods website. Thank you for reading and sharing these stories with other caregivers and Facebook friends. The site shows that over 26,000 visits have been logged. Subtracting all the hits from Internet spammers, it’s still an event worth celebrating.
I’m grateful that so many of you take the time to read these pieces. But I feel an even bigger debt to those of you who have posted comments about your personal struggles as caregivers. I’ve heard from people in every part of this enormous country and also from some who live in other nations. We know that dementia is a disease with no boundaries and the number of caregivers will rise dramatically in coming years. Over time, I’ve thought a lot about the philosophy that guides my writing. After 26,000 web hits, it’s probably time to offer some sort of mission statement.
Here is what I’ve come up with: “I write to share ideas about how to reduce caregiver stress — and to highlight the fleeting moments of insight and love that occur while caring for someone with dementia.”
Too wordy? Maybe, but it gets at a whole range of feelings that seem important to me. Thank you for your many comments and all that you’ve shared here. Tell me more!
Two of my uncles have spent years tracing our family’s winding path through history. When a loved one starts to lose their memory, ancestral details can vanish in a flash. But if there is an incidence of dementia among your relatives, the health history of your family may be even more important than dates on gravestones and photos of Aunt Martha.
A Winter 2013 article published by AARP Health and MetLife, explains the importance of collecting family health history such as dates of heart attacks, strokes, or other health problems suffered by close kin. This kind of information can help the next generation screen for illnesses they may be likely to develop. If you have a family member with dementia, knowledge is critical because it’s a cryptic disease that may be exacerbated by problems like mini-strokes or hypertension which occur well before memory loss.
The article divides the process of collecting family health history into three steps:
- Get Organized — make lists of what AARP refers to as “first degree” (parents, siblings, and children) and “second degree” relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents) and document the ages at which any “heart attacks, strokes, or deaths occurred”
- Get the Information — the article encourages families to create a health profile for each family member with “dates for illnesses, surgeries, marriages, births and deaths” and use this info to create a family tree illustrating the health history of your kinship network.
- Get Healthier by Sharing the information — Providing your children, siblings and other relatives with this data can help everyone learn more about their potential health risks. You can also discuss the findings with your primary care doctor when addressing your own health issues and treatment options.
Knowing the details of our family health profile can help us make good decisions about protecting our own health. We all carry a subtle psychological burden when a close relative has dementia. The fear of developing this disease exerts quiet pressure on caregivers who have witnessed its relentless attack on people we love. The best defense against this predator is to become aggressive, informed defenders of our own health.