Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Family and Illness
I have a circumstance in dealing with family and illness that, while not unique, is not one that is discussed very often. I am the primary care giver for my eighty year old mother. When I am not well, this causes an extra layer of concern for me.
When you help care for an older adult, there are things you need to be aware of. Unlike children, they will not become more independent with time - instead they will become more dependent. Unlike children, they are aware of the consequences of their caregiver becoming ill, and part of the consequences may be loss of what independence they have, and possible institutionalization. Unlike children, their comprehension may be clouded due to age and illness, which increases anxiety and possible inability to cope with rapidly changing events.
My mother has had a series of small strokes, and has had cancer in the last five years. She does not have a sense of hunger, and has to be reminded to eat. She has cataracts and diminished vision. She has advanced COPD and limited ability to do physical effort. Mom can still cook, clean a little bit, maintain her own personal hygiene, manage her medication, and do her laundry. My father died in 1989, so she does not have the support of a husband. She enjoys doing crossword puzzles each day, and we have been working on a 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle for quite a while. She worries about things I don't worry about, or even guess she worries about, and has some trouble with short term memory. She needs help to dial a phone, even to call 911. But she has many more years of living in her home/our home ahead of her, and enjoying the companionship we have, and with our dog Augie (well, really her dog Augie!).
I have brothers and a sister that help care for Mom when I am on the road or in the hospital, and that is a great blessing for me and my mother. She gets scared when I am ill, and I try to keep that kind of stress from her when at all possible. Sometimes, as when I called the ambulance a couple of weekends ago, it is not possible but I try to keep it in the background as much as I can. Thus the blog - she doesn't read a lot of internet articles, and she doesn't use a computer, so this is a way to vent without worrying her. Sometimes my own stress spills over and that upsets her so I try to keep things as calm as possible in my home environment.
I don't have children or a husband to help me when I am ill. My siblings try to help, but all of them have their own problems in their own lives, so I try not to bother them if I can avoid it. I try to be independent, but I am sure if you ask other family members they might not see it that way. If things don't get done at home, there is only me to do them. I wish I had more energy, and I wish I was more able to keep up the house in the manner I was raised to do it. There is a blessing that Mom has cataracts so she can't see the cobwebs in the corners of the closets or the dust bunnies under the couch! I concentrate on keeping the floors and counters clean and the bathrooms decent.
Because Mom feels anxious when I am sick, she wants me to stay at home with her all the time and not be sick. When I gently remind her we couldn't afford her medication or food if I didn't work, she seems to understand but we have this conversation over and over again. I love my Mom, and I hate that me being ill makes her upset, and makes her anxious. Its enough that it makes me sick, without harming her.
I have friends that say they would send their parents off to a nursing home. As someone who has spent time around elderly relatives in nursing homes, these institutions have their place, but they are not a warehouse for elderly persons who have the ability to care for themselves with some assistance. The institutionalization of the individual that is inevitable in that environment is harmful to someone that has good cognition. I feel strongly that family should be the first resource for elder care, just as it was near the turn of the last century. I just wish I was better able to care for my mother.