For the third installation in our Caregiver Month blog series, AGE is proud to present this heartfelt piece by Margaret Lucas.
What I do as a Caregiver
As a caregiver I try to care for my husband and provide assistance and direction in his daily activities. My husband is a physician. He was very successful in his work and an excellent public speaker until memory loss became a challenge in his daily life.
My role is to be a source of support and care. It is my responsibility and desire to provide for his comfort and help him to have a quality life. I take these responsibilities seriously. For example, when he began asking about our schedule for the day three or four times during a 30-minute period, I purchased a whiteboard at our local office supply store. Each morning, I write the day of the week, month and date at the top of the whiteboard. Then I list the appointments and time of each. If the board remains white, we have a free and open day to accomplish those things we desire to do.
Another example of my responsibility is keeping his medication holder filled properly. The seven day, plastic holder works well. I order his prescriptions as needed.
We complete many daily tasks together. You make the bed together each morning and try to make it an enjoyable experience such as pulling too much sheet on one side or teasing as we place the pillows in the wrong spot. We always end the bed making with a hug.
Other tasks we share include filling and emptying the dishwasher, dusting, carrying the dirty clothes to the washing machine and folding the clothes after they are clean. We cook together since he has always enjoyed cooking.
As a caregiver, some of the important things I must remember to always support my husband by being flexible, having sense of humor, trying to avoid stress, and being loving continuously.
My advice to caregivers is to take care of yourselves with exercise, eat properly, rest and meditate, stay in contact with friends and family, and seek help from others when needed. Above all, keep happiness in your life.
What I Want to Tell Other Caregivers
Maintaining a positive quality of life is most essential in the years ahead for us. We are taking and have undertaken steps to ensure that goal. Let’s consider the following:
- Exercise – Our neurologist is a bold believer in physical fitness and encourages each of his patients to exercise. We own a stationary bike and a Bow-flex machine which my husband uses six days a week. We use the pool at our community center.
- Mental stimulation – (a) Crossword puzzles are a challenge of the past. Sudoku is a daily stimulation. The Sudoku puzzles in the daily newspaper are copied and enlarged each morning. While cooling down from the exercise workout Sudoku is solved. (b) Since my husband no longer reads, we purchased books on DVD. We listen, discuss, and learn. (c) We attend movies and concerts. There are sporting events or programs on television to enjoy. (d) The Early Memory Loss Support program meets weekly and offers mentally challenging discussions and puzzles that exercise mental thinking.
- Food choices and nutrition – All of us are aware that proper nutrition is essential in enabling us to live healthy, long lives. We try to avoid fatty foods and limit our sugar intake. We do not drink coffee or tea. My husband enjoys green, leafy vegetables, so we eat many turnip, mustard, and collard greens. Fresh fruits are always a part of our diet. We do not drink alcohol. We take daily supplements as recommended by our family physician.
- Driving – Making the decision to drive or give up personal independence by no longer driving is very, very difficult. When the neurologist told my husband to take a drivers test to evaluate his driving skills, my husband refused. After considerable discussion the neurologist asked, “Will you give up driving because I ask you?” My husband has not gotten behind the wheel since that request was made. I do all the driving.
- Legal planning – During our monthly AGE caregivers meeting my attention was stimulated in the importance of legal planning. We had drawn up a will over 20 years ago. It was time to have our lawyer update and make sure the will was valid. During this process our lawyer included a Durable Power of Attorney and the Do-Not-Resuscitate order.
What I Want to Tell Non-Caregivers
It is very important to know that Alzheimer’s is a brain disease resulting in memory loss. Frequently, Alzheimer’s is considered to be an embarrassment and some people try to keep others from knowing the diagnosis. Although it was difficult to admit at the beginning of the diagnosis, we found that our family and friends were very understanding and respectful.
The disease begins with mild memory loss, progresses to forgetting your loved one’s name, and results in dependence on others. No matter what stage the patient is in, he or she needs your support, appreciation and love.
Learn as much as you can about the disease and be supportive to all involved. Friends who have had Alzheimer’s within their families were very understanding and have offered their assistance.
Offer to relieve the caregiver when relief is needed or requested.
Check to find out if a repair is needed at the families home. Offer to make that repair.
When visiting with the Alzheimer’s patient, remember to be calm and give him or her enough time to answer your questions. Treat the patient with respect.
The patient may say or do things that are unacceptable. It is the status of the disease. Be prepared to respond positively in a correcting manner.
My Connection to AGE
My husband is a participant in the Early Memory Loss Support program at Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church. The program provides cognitive stimulation and support to early stage individuals with mild memory loss.
The weekly class includes:
- Mental stimulation through puzzles, brain twisters, and discussions of current events.
- Creativity through painting, writing, improvisation, and yoga therapy.
- Reading books such as Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson
- Discussion of coping with memory loss
This class enables my husband to socialize with others who have the same memory challenges.
At the conclusion of the painting class, we attended a beautiful display of the works of art by the class members at the Laura Bush library in Westlake. During that event we socialized, enjoyed delicious refreshments, and were entertained by a musical group.
As a result of my husband’s participation, I am offered the opportunity to attend the monthly Caregivers meeting. This meeting, conducted by a professional social worker, enables caregivers to discuss challenges we have faced.
AGE offers many other services, but the above resources are the ones in which we have participated.
I am deeply indebted to AGE for their mission and vision in challenging the problems of aging.
To learn more about AGE’s resources for caregivers, please visit ageofcentraltx.org or call (512) 600-9286.