The Importance of Community for Caregivers

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By Mike Barnes

I went to visit my mom in memory care, and the first words out of her mouth were, “I don’t recognize you.”

After I introduced myself, saying my name and that I’m her son, she asked, “Are you my brother?”

I repeated my name and relation, and this time, the response was, “Why are you here?”

Those aren’t the words you want to hear your mother say. She’s the only mom I’ve ever had, and I’m her only son. Visits like that can be emotional and overwhelming, and sometimes frustration sets in.

My wife got a phone call a few years ago from her mom’s banker. I don’t know what’s a bigger red flag: that we know her mom’s banker or that the banker has our number.

He said, “I just talked to your mom. She was in a Lyft headed to the bank and called to tell me she was withdrawing a large amount of money to buy gift cards for a man who said he couldn’t do it, but that he’d pay her back. I told her to have the Lyft turn around, go home, and call her daughter.”

My mother-in-law had been scammed. Again.

Overwhelming events like these become more and more common as we deal with our aging parents. You’d think we’d be ready for it because of how similar it is to having a baby, especially your first baby.

When my wife and I had our first child in 1997, we knew how to change the diaper. Well, my wife did. But everything else was new to us, and we had no idea what we were doing. The good news was EVERYONE we knew offered advice. Relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers. They asked about the baby and had tips and ideas about what to do when he couldn’t sleep through the night or when he had gas or when he was trying to roll over or when he was trying to crawl and everything else about the joys of raising a baby.

But when we encounter similar problems with aging parents, most of us suffer in silence. It’s pretty rare for a friendly conversation to include statements like, “My mom has incontinence issues. How’s yours doing?”

Most of the time the subject matter is depressing or embarrassing, and it usually doesn’t have a positive outcome. You don’t have the celebrations like you do when the baby sleeps through the night or takes his or her first step.

That’s a big reason why we created our free Facebook Group, Parenting Aging Parents. Not only do we share ideas with other adult children with aging parents, we let them know they’re not alone. We’re one big community trying to help each other by sharing insights and experiences. And we need it.

We all have different family dynamics and different personalities. Different medical conditions and different financial situations. That’s why it’s rare to find the simple answer like, “Pat the baby gently on its back.” If only it was that easy.

Those difficulties put us all in a bind because we’re dealing with grown adults who are used to being in charge. In charge of their own lives and their kids’ when they were children. That means frustration shows its ugly head.

And it’s worse than a baby crying when teething. It can get ugly and nasty and vindictive.

My mom was moved to memory care because of her Alzheimer’s. And there were times after the move when she blamed my dad or said some bad things about the other residents or just went off on an expletive filled tirade. Visits can be rough and uncomfortable, and not just with Alzheimer’s.

Here are three things I’ve found to help me in this tough time of life.

1. Don’t take it personally.

Remember it’s the disease or the condition talking. It’s frustrating that we may not fully understand, and, unfortunately, you may get the brunt of it. Many times, it’s not because of you or what you’ve done. Don’t take it personally.

2.  Be thankful for what’s still there.

We get upset about what’s gone. You miss the “old mom” or “old dad.” It happens to all of us.  But you must remind yourself to be thankful for what’s still there. Enjoy your time and appreciate that relationship you have.

3. Don’t try to do it alone.

Look for an online group like Parenting Aging Parents, a church support group, or maybe just a dear friend who knows what you’ve been battling. It can be easy to have a pity party.  You get down because things are bad and they seem to only be getting worse.  But that won’t help your parent, and it will make things even worse for you. We like to remind people in our Facebook group that you’re not alone.

There is help out there. Find the support you need. We’re all in this together. 

After 30 years as television journalists, Kim and Mike Barnes have a new mission: to broadcast a message of support and to undercut the confusion surrounding care for aging parents. Through their free Facebook Group, expert interviews, and guide for gathering essential information, Parenting Aging Parents provides access to the knowledge desperately needed for adult children. 

Lake Oconee Health produces engaging content in order to be a relevant health and wellness resource for our readers across the region.

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