Tag Archives: relationships with elders

You are More than a Caregiver

You are more than a caregiver!  Unfortunately, I had almost forgotten that motto. I haven’t written much in the past month. My house was accumulating dust. The garden sat untended. I was so overwhelmed with #caregiving responsibilities that I found myself neglecting important matters.

You are More than a Caregiver

Last year, when I moved my mom back into my house I wasn’t sure what to expect. Doctors had been discussing hospice and I was really afraid she would die among strangers. Bringing her home again felt like the right choice. I could not foresee how much my own life would change. I wanted last summer to be special. I wanted Mom to enjoy the sounds of birdsong on the porch and feel nourished by good home cooking. I didn’t plan further than that.

After we moved her, Mom got stronger for a while. Then she got weaker. I went from being able to manage her hygiene alone to needing another support person. Now we rely on a rotating group of helpers who pop in when I have to take her to the bathroom, or make sure I can get out to go to the bank. My household is like a carousel that keeps spinning. But in the process of managing everything for my mother, I’ve been quietly losing bits of myself.

How #Caregivers Lose Ground

In recent months I stopped finding time to do things that matter:

  • I wasn’t taking my walks. I used to go out almost every day for at least 20 minutes. The weather’s been nice, so there’s no excuse. I just let daily walks slip out of my routine.
  • My personal writing projects were shoved to the back burner. Pieces I’d been working on for months started to seem unimportant. Somehow they never got finished.
  • Mom now needs two people to lift her instead of one, so I can’t leave the house for more than two hours unless there are two aides on duty. My response: I stayed home more and lost time spent with friends and my sweetheart Mike.

I could blame my mom, but I let this happen without noticing the subtle ways things had changed. I’m getting a grip on the wheel again and I can see how even a modest lack of discipline can result in losing track of yourself. Somewhere along the way I stopped fighting the rising tide of responsibility.

Now I see that #caregivers must fight that tide to keep our lives from getting swept away in it. I have to schedule my walks on the calendar if I’m going to take them. In terms of family health, my walks are as important as my mother’s doctor’s appointments. I have to fight the temptation to do so much for others when the itch to write gets strong. Those unwritten pages haunt my dreams. Time with friends is essential, too. I need to take the initiative to make sure I get those social breaks.

Being a #caregiver is hard. We’re forced to make many sacrifices. Our silver lining is a rare, prolonged glimpse into the heart of human experience. If we pay attention, we can learn patience and humility — essential qualities in this crazy world! But we walk a tightrope every day. Without balance, we fail ourselves.

When Dementia Steals Language, A Touch Speaks Volumes

Once a person with dementia loses their language capacity, you need new ways to communicate. I still talk to my mom. But she can seldom answer me. Lately, I’ve been using touch to keep her connected, so I decided to do some research on the effects of massage.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Massages have been part of our family habits for a long time. Years ago, my mom, sister and I decided to stop buying Christmas gifts. Instead we set aside a time when we would go to a day-spa. Each of us got a massage, then we went out to dinner or to a show. The idea was: Have fun together, instead of buying each other stuff we didn’t need. Now, as Mom’s condition has declined, I’ve started massaging her hands or her earlobes gently. I ask her if she likes it and she just laughs, which seems like a good sign.

Although it’s hard to find research, plenty of people think that massage is helpful to people with dementia. The University of Maryland Health Center says, “People with Alzheimer’s disease become frustrated and anxious because they cannot communicate well with language. Using touch, or massage, as nonverbal communication may help. ” They quote a study claiming that people with Alzheimer’s who got hand massages — and were spoken to in a calming manner — had lower pulse rates and didn’t engage in as much inappropriate behavior. The also mention that “health care professionals think that massage may help not only because it is relaxing, but because it provides a form of social interaction.”

The Alzheimer’s Society (in England) says, “There is much anecdotal evidence that massage can help manage symptoms associated with dementia such as anxiety, agitation and depression, but studies have not been sufficiently rigorous to provide solid proof. It does seem likely that massage interventions may well be beneficial, but further research is required.”

Even in the absence of scientific proof, massage seems like the kind of thing that would soothe a body in great distress (heaven knows, it works for me!) I found an article in Massage Today written by Ann Catlin, a Licensed Massage Therapist, that helped me understand why that might be true. Ms. Catlin looks at a person with Alzheimer’s from the perspective of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I remember learning Maslow’s Hierarchy in college, but I never thought about my mom’s disease in this light. According to Maslow, all humans have the following needs:

1) Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep, etc.; 2) Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, etc.; 3) Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, affection and love, from different sources; 4) Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.; 5) Cognitive needs – knowledge, meaning, etc.; 6) Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.; 7) Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences; and 8) Transcendence needs – helping others to achieve self actualization.

Ms. Catlin believes massage has the capacity to meet certain aspects of all these needs. She notes, “Massage therapists can bring a unique perspective to the care of elders living with Alzheimer’s disease by highlighting the role of compassionate human touch in satisfying human needs on all levels.”

Her article offers many more details about how massage can help dementia patients. I appreciate her perspective because it seems to grow from professional wisdom. And regardless of what it does for the patient, giving little massages to my mom meets some part of my own hierarchy of needs. I long to know that she can still sense how much I love her. If a touch can transmit that message, it’s very powerful medicine.