Category Archives: Ideas to Float on

Caregivers: Sometimes We Need 911

Sometimes #caregivers need help from 911.  I’m the type of person who believes I can get through most challenges on my own. But when an impaired #dementia patient lands on the floor, you shouldn’t try to lift them alone.
caregivers 911
I had to learn this lesson the hard way. In the course of a year, my mother went from being unable to stand, to walking with support. Then a month ago Mom started losing strength. Now she can’t stand up for long — even with help.

Until January, I was able to get her out of bed and dress her without assistance. Then one day, during our carefully orchestrated morning dance, she let go of her support bar. My eyes were focused on the back part of her body so I never saw her hand move. By the time (a few seconds?) I realized what was happening, momentum was pulling her away from me. I used every muscle in my body to swing her past the sink and the toilet so she wouldn’t fall against them. Although I was strong and fast enough to keep her from hitting anything, I could not prevent her slow fall to the floor.

We were lucky. Adrenaline kicked in and I got a surge of energy. Neither of us hit the ground hard. But once my mom was down, I could not budge her. I tried every method I could think of to gain some leverage. I put a gait belt around her waist and tried to raise her. I pushed a piece of furniture behind her, hoping I could at least lift her to a seated position. Nothing worked.

I grabbed the phone. My friend’s very strong husband did not answer. Then I called a female neighbor who hurried over to help. But even with the two of us working together, we failed. Finally, I threw up my hands and called 911.

Our house is in the woods, so both the fire company and Emergency Medical Technicians are staffed by volunteers. They are very well trained, but most work elsewhere and don’t get paid for the hours they spend helping people. We were so lucky that someone came over right away.

A really nice young man with tremendous biceps arrived at our house. Among other questions, he asked my mother’s weight.

I told him, “She’s about 103 pounds.”

“Okay,” he said, “I’m just gonna give her a bear hug and pull her up off the floor.”

“I can’t wait to see it, ” I replied.

He lifted Mom gently as if she were a stranded lamb and dropped her back into her wheelchair. It took seconds and it was amazing. In that moment, I realized that there’s no shame in asking for emergency help when a problem is beyond the scope of your knowledge or physical capacity.  Have you ever faced a predicament like this? Did you get the help you needed?

Four Seasons of Caregiving

I do my caregiving in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania where the four seasons are usually quite distinct. It’s Christmas today. Though we have no snow for the first December in years, I don’t miss the shoveling and bitter winds. Caregiving makes me feel like I’m going through four seasons at once, regardless of the weather.

Four Seasons of Caregiving

Being a caregiver for someone with dementia complicates your emotional life. This is especially true around the holidays. I get a warm, springlike sense of gratitude while reflecting on the fact that my mom has made it to another Christmas. It’s great to witness the small pleasures she still enjoys. The lights around our patio imitate dripping icicles. They fascinate Mom. Her eyes sparkle with delight when my sister hugs her. No moments are warmer than these.

But at the same time that I feel this rush of happiness, I also have a sense of autumnal sadness. Mom’s lost so much of her capacity to live a full life. She can barely walk, even with lots of assistance. Her eyesight is almost gone. What else can she lose, I wonder? Is there a line past which all pleasure in life disappears?

Four Seasons of Caregiving -- Fall

Nothing about this melancholy feeling is surprising. Who wouldn’t be sad watching the slow decline of  a loved one? The bursts of hope are what really shocks. After eight years, wild fits of optimism overtake me when Mom is having a really good day. Once in a while she utters a complete, logical sentence and my heart just soars at the sound of her rare words.

The problem occurs when you leap from the hope of spring to the sweet summery expectation that things will get better. You start to believe the skies will be blue again and the sun will warm our skin. Maybe that’s true for us, but probably not for our loved ones. There is no setting back the clock on dementia. One good day or even one good week will not regenerate the skills of someone with grave neurological problems like my mom’s. Our future is more likely to be full of rocky weather and worsening symptoms.

In the end, it doesn’t matter much what emotional season we find ourselves in. We have to do our best to hold it all together and keep the ship afloat. May the winter holidays offer you hidden joys, sparks of hope, and a sense of peace to help you steer through every struggle and find happiness wherever you are.