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Posted: January 11, 2007

Spousal Caregiving

78 -- And Counting!

Bill Andrew

Since my 78th birthday occurred earlier this week, I thought I would take a different approach to writing this column this time from the perspective of a 78-year-old spousal caregiver.

As many of you already know, I am the 24/7 caregiver for my wife of more than 55 years, Carol, who is afflicted with late-stage Alzheimer's disease and is currently an in-home hospice patient. Over these past 12 years -- now into our 13th year -- I have learned many caregiving lessons that I have tried to pass on to other spousal caregivers through the more than 100 columns I have authored on this website (this is column No. 104).

When this "journey" began in September 1994, I never envisioned that Carol and I would be celebrating 55 years of marriage in August 2006. I had my doubts about Carol making it to her 77th birthday, which she did last November. The prognosis for her personal health was not encouraging, given the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.

The stress and strain of being Carol's 24/7 caregiver should have taken its toll on my personal health. And yet, here we are celebrating my 78th birthday and well into our 13th year on this caregiving journey. Carol's health is much better than her doctors would have anticipated at this stage, and I am relatively healthy given the trials and tribulations of being a 24/7 caregiver. Now we have 2007 to look forward to -- and the rest of our journey.

To what do I attribute my staying power as a 24/7 caregiver? To what do I attribute Carol's staying power, despite the ravages of Alzheimer's disease? Let me try to explain what we are doing and perhaps you can benefit from our lessons learned over these past dozen years -- and what keeps me going as a 78-year-old caregiver for my 77-year-old spouse.

Take a look at one of my early columns, A Prescription for Caregiving, for the guiding principles of our respective staying power. These principles -- I called them "points to ponder" in the above-referenced column -- are as valid today as they were more than two years ago when I first discussed them. These are not the only principles that have helped Carol and me survive this journey of faith, but they are the ones that always seem to pop up when somebody asks me how I do what I do. I present them herein in a slightly different order as a result of lessons learned over the past two years. These eight principles are the key underpinnings of my ability to continue to provide high-quality care for Carol -- and our respective staying power: 

Prayer. The importance and sustaining power of prayer -- for both the loved one and the caregiver -- can not be overstated. Prayer has been the "weapon of choice" that feeds that staying power referenced above. As the old saying goes, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." Prayer is the most important component of my caregiving strategy for Carol and the No. 1 guiding principle on this journey of faith.

Patience. As I have said many times, patience is the key to successful caregiving for a loved one. However, this patience is derived from my personal prayer life. Often, when the going gets tough, I resort to prayer to achieve patience so that "the tough get going" -- and I can do what I have to do for Carol.

Positive mental attitude. Personally, I find it difficult to have a positive mental attitude until I pray about the situation and develop a level of patience that will allow that mental attitude to be positive. It goes without saying that a negative mental attitude regarding the care of a loved one is defeatist and will result in poor quality care for your loved one. You really do need to "accentuate the positive!"

Planning. We are all creatures of habit -- caregivers, care-recipients, and non-caregivers. That is human nature. Carol's daily routine for her activities of daily living (ADLs) is a critical component of her personal staying power, as it is for mine. Her routine is my routine -- and that takes planning and scheduling. Obviously, having a care plan in place and a schedule to implement that care plan makes it somewhat easier for this 78-year-old caregiver to continue to provide high quality care for Carol.

Perspective. As Carol's 24/7 caregiver, I must accept the fact that she is the care-recipient and that I am the caregiver; nothing can change that reality. With Alzheimer's disease, her reality is not necessarily my reality. Her reality cannot generally be expressed as I can express my reality -- and life in the real world. Sometimes, she comes into my reality; when she does, things get easier. Most of the time, however, I have to try to reach into her reality, and I do this by placing myself into an appropriate perspective. Think about how you might have talked to your newborn children (baby talk). That is what I often have to do to reach into Carol's reality.

Praise. Praising Carol for something well-done is an extension of placing myself into an appropriate perspective. We all did it when our children were growing up, and it worked, didn't it? It also works with someone with late-stage Alzheimer's disease, at least, most of the time. Praise does work; try it, you might like it.

Patter. Carol's staying power can also be attributed to the constant "patter" that keeps Carol engaged during the day. I try to talk with her frequently throughout the day, while I am toileting her, bathing her, dressing her, feeding her, and whatever else I do for her. She knows my voice, and I know that she is comfortable with me being with her. I ask her questions and I tell her what I am doing or going to do. She is fully informed at all stages, and I personally feel that is keeping her mind active. Most of the time I get a positive response when I ask her a question or ask her opinion about something.

Proper nutrition. It is critical that both the care-recipient and the caregiver have a well-balanced nutritional intake on a daily basis. This means that all aspects of nutrition must be considered with special focus on the immune system. Both Carol and I are on a glyconutritional diet protocol that is designed for cellular well-being and serves as the foundation for the rest of our diet. You can learn more about glyconutrients at www.glycoscience.org and find out how they can help your personal staying power. Obviously, our glyconutritional diet protocol has provided both Carol and me with the staying power that allows a 78-year-old 24/7 caregiver to provide high quality care for his 77-year-old spouse.

These eight principles have provided Carol and me with the staying power that has allowed us both to thrive despite the prognosis for her late-stage Alzheimer's disease and the risks for me being her 24/7 caregiver. They have undoubtedly been significant contributing factors to the ability of this 78-year-old caregiver husband to continue to provide a high level of quality care for his 77-year-old care-recipient wife. As they say, "the proof is in the pudding!" Or more specifically, "results are what count."

If you have any comments or thoughts about the above, drop me a line at ASKBill@caregivershome.com and I will share them with other readers in a future column. 

WORDS TO CARE BY . . .

"There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval."

George Santayana (1863-1952)

 

 


Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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