| | | |

Don’t Let Them Tell You (Caregivers) Otherwise:

A Caregiver’s First Duty and Commitment 

Reflecting over this past year, I am mindful of how very fortunate Paul and I have been. My decision to place Paul in a long-term care facility was a wrenching one; I was so very afraid; I wanted him safe but I didn’t want him staring at institutional walls with little to no engagement from others; I wanted Paul to be happy.

But I had done my homework and the place I chose has been a Godsend.

I had come to the realization: My own health would simply not allow me to continue doing 24/7 sole caregiving to Paul, for although Paul looks in great physical condition, his short term memory is gone. How does that affect day-to-day life? He must be redirected to accomplish anything, over and over, throughout the day.

Then, too, Paul was hospitalized twice this past year—once for Covid and another time for diabetes (a new diagnosis).

My responsibilities had grown over these past many years. I’d oversee Paul’s every activity. I’d get him up; I took care of his hygienic needs in bathing, dental care; I prepared his breakfast (and all meals); oversaw medication and his dress. I could not leave him on his own—especially in the past two years. On one occasion, when I hoped to take a quick shower, he was out in the yard, looking for me (I had told him where I’d be, but he forgot.) If I left him in the car so I could duck into a store for a quick purchase, he’d get out of the car and start looking for me. I had to keep him in my visual field continually, lest he wander.

In other words, being sole caregiver for one who is cognitively challenged is like single parenting of a young child. (I’ve done that twice in my earlier life) with a major difference. In child-rearing, there is light at the end of the tunnel: as they grow older, they become less dependent on the caregiver.

So, how does one make this hardest decision (to place a partner or loved one)? Hopefully, with support from others. But, be assured: Sometimes the ones who question “Does he really need to be there, already?” are the very ones who’ve done little of the actual caring, over the years. They’ve not taken the person to thousands of doctor appointments. They’re not the ones who sat upright in hard, plastic hospital chairs, overnight, while a hospital determined whether they’d admit, during a crisis; they never gave the caregiver regular breaks– whether a regular (weekly or bi-weekly) day off for a caregiver’s mental well-being or even a few days vacation.

No—but they’ll be there to question.

A caregiver must sometimes summon her courage and make the decision for BOTH her sake and her loved one.

Regardless of what others think.

In the end, a caregiver must care for herself… first.

Colleen Kelly Mellor’s book “Az and Me: A Partner’s Journey with Alzheimer’s” shares tips and suggestions she learned, as sole caregiver, for many years, to her partner who has Alzheimer’s. Some snapshots of their life are darkly-humorous to be appreciated most by fellow caregivers. Her book will be published in the spring. colleenkellymellor@gmail.com