When does one become a caregiver?
Seventeen years ago, I was regularly calling my father in Wisconsin. He was showing signs of dementia. The Department on Aging representative called to say that my father was a safety risk and they were considering a 72-hour psychiatric evaluation.
I knew right then I had to get involved because a 3-day psychiatric evaluation would definitely kill my father.
But wait. What about my brother? He lives in our father’s home. Or my sister? She lives 5 blocks away. Why was this case worker calling me 1,800 miles away?
Ahhhhh, they weren’t answering her calls or returning her messages. They were too busy!
When do we become caregivers?
I certainly didn’t view myself as a caregiver when I promised the case worker that I’d return to my father’s Wisconsin home of 45 years if she’d hold off on the psychiatric evaluation.
The word “caregiver” didn’t enter my mind when I called my father regularly to see how he was doing. Despite his bouts of forgetfulness — my name and where I lived — I wanted to preserve his dignity and independence.
So, when did I become a caregiver?
Certainly not when I flew back to Milwaukee to spend two weeks with him then decided (with my husband) to move him into our California home. Uh-hmm, that was after we drank too much beer at an Oktoberfest celebration.
Nope not even when he was living with us did I consider myself a caregiver.
Holy Crap, I’m a caregiver!
Not until he began relaxing and letting the dementia symptoms show more fully did I finally realize, “HOLY CRAP, I’m a caregiver!”
Only then did I wonder, “What have I done?” Like the mom of a difficult toddler, there was no way my husband and I could put him back where he came from!
Once we admit to being a caregiver
we can take the next steps,
which will take away that Holy Crap feeling.
The first two steps I took were to have my father participate in adult day care activities where he served as a “volunteer for those old people” while I attended weekly support group meetings. I credit both with saving my caregiving life.
Reflecting on it now, I would say: As soon as you answer the call.
It will change your life!
For more about becoming a caregiver read “Where’s my shoes?” My Father’s Walk through Alzheimer’s