The Exhausted Family Caregiver

In late 2011 or early 2012, I brought my father home after a long stay in the hospital.  This was during one of my frequent trips back to Buffalo, when I’d become his temporary family caregiver. Once I got us into the garage and away from the shrill winter wind, I helped him out of the car and got his walker in front of him. He was weakened by recent surgeries as well as age. 

I was guiding him up the two steps leading to the house when I slipped. My father’s full body weight fell against me and then he plummeted to the ground. We then discovered I didn’t have the strength to pull his weight up from the ground. 

We struggled desperately to get him to his feet. After several frantic minutes we got him into the house and onto a chair. He panted for breath, and I knew his fragile heart was hammering in his chest. 

I was sure I’d killed him. 

This happened during one of my many trips to take care of Dad. During those visits, I became his family caregiver, and I was lucky if I managed to get three hours of sleep. He might call out to me, ring his bedside bell or cry out during one of his nightmares. I’d move the pillows around to make him more comfortable. Sometimes he needed his inhaler, the nebulizer, the pulse oximeter or the tubes from his oxygenator required untangling. 

This and more happens to every caregiver who’s caring for a family member or a friend.  You’re a volunteer, without training and with so many new demands. You start out doing it out of dedication and love.  

But, as a family caregiver, you don’t have training. You’re not an expert. Neither was I. 

There’s so Much at Stake

Someone’s life is genuinely in your hands, with so many things to keep track of – prescriptions, blood pressure, doctor’s appointments, food intake, fluid intake, worsening symptoms, new symptoms and more. 

You wonder if you’re doing enough, or whether you’re doing things right. Then you wonder how you’d even know if you’re doing things wrong. Your own isolation, guilt and doubt can overwhelm you. 

A study by Embracing Carers determined that 45% of family caregivers suffer from depression, and don’t take the time to look after their own health. Insomnia, accidents and substance abuse afflict many enmeshed in this situation. Other studies show that caregivers become susceptible to diabetes, strokes, heart attacks and other diseases. 

Consider that those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias often require care for 10 years or more. Their mind may deteriorate but their body can remain quite healthy. The intense stress of caring for someone with dementia (usually their spouse) can actually become dangerous. According to a Stanford University study, 40% of those caring for loved ones with dementia died before the one they were caring for. 

You Become a Family Caregiver Because You Love Them, But…

You start out caring for your loved one out of devotion, but if you take on too much responsibility, the daily burden of it can crush you. Do yourself and your loved one a favor by splitting the responsibilities with friends or other family members. 

Also try hiring experienced caregivers, even if it’s just for a couple of days a week. They have the necessary training to manage prescriptions, get someone to their feet, and many more of the physical and medical aspects needed by your loved one.

It doesn’t mean you care any less!  Instead, you’ll have enough emotional bandwidth to reminisce, watch old movies together, play checkers – and be grateful for every minute of it. 

The last thing you want is to be as distracted as I was on that day when I dropped my father and couldn’t get him back up. I was lucky that Dad made it through that day and many more, thanks to the experienced caregivers we eventually hired. We really got to savor the time he had left.  

During my visits he’d often say, “I’m sorry about all this, Mish,” using my family nickname. 

“You’ve taken care of me for all these years,” was always my response. “I’m happy I can finally return the favor.”

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About: Marty Stevens-Heebner

An award-winning entrepreneur, designer and author, Clear Home Solutions’ CEO Marty Stevens-Heebner and her staff of experts work with older adults and their families when their treasures, paperwork and “stuff” get in the way of moving their lives forward. Clear Home Solutions is where compassion meets know-how, thanks to her hard-working staff of experts. They tackle moves, downsizing and organizing, as well as professional home inventories, managing all the logistics and stress so their clients don’t have to.

Marty was inspired to launch Clear Home Solutions 8 years ago after her experiences with her 90-year-old father and her 88-year-old aunt with dementia. She’s the President-Elect of the National Association of Senior and Specialty Move Managers (NASMM), and Clear Home Solutions was the first nationally accredited company in her industry in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

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