I recently read an extremely sad newspaper article about a mother and daughter and their deaths. The mother, in her 80s, suffered from Alzheimer's disease, likely mid to late stage. Her daughter, in her early 60s, was the caregiver. The two lived alone in a neighborhood where most people were gone during the day. This was, indeed, a case of caregiver isolation, perhaps more extreme than most.
Their deaths occurred because the daughter suffered a brain aneurism and died, apparently instantly. The mother wondered about and fell down a flight of stairs, broke a hip, and lay there to die. Only after several days did someone, who had expected to hear from the daughter and didn't, call for a welfare check. The county sheriff found the two women, both dead.
Obviously, this is a lonely, heartbreaking story on many levels. One that is, unfortunately, not all that uncommon. I read awhile back about a mother/daughter (again) situation where the daughter had a heart attack and died. The death of the daughter - the caregiver - resulted in the Alzheimer's afflicted mother starving to death.
These incidents shine a very bright light on the fact that caregivers and those they care for can become so isolated in their daily routines that they don't have a support line to the community.
Not only do caregivers need support so they don't feel so isolated - they need support so the truly aren't so isolated. In each of these incidences, if the caregiving daughter had formed a connection with a group, or at least one loyal friend or neighbor who would check on the welfare of both the caregiver and the care receiver on a daily basis, there is a chance that one or more of these lonely deaths could have been prevented.
I know first hand how easy it is to lose track of friendships and stop activities we once enjoyed because caregiving duties seem to take all of our time. Often, we don't know how we can leave our loved one, so we just hole up and become a unit with them. That's bad for the caregiver and the care receiver. That's extreme isolation.
I've talked with people in groups about having a caregiving "buddy system." Mostly, I've recommended it because of the support aspect. However, after reading about these cases, I will be stressing this idea for an even more urgent reason. A buddy could save a life.
If the caregivers in these cases had friends checking in with them at least daily, it's possible that the Alzheimer's afflicted mothers could have been taken to safety. It's even possible that the woman who suffered the heart attack could have gotten help.
For many reasons, caregivers need support. Support breaks the isolation. I'm asking you caregivers to take an action step that will benefit you and your loved one. Find another caregiver or a friend or neighbor who expects to hear from you on a regular basis. Trade house keys with someone you trust. Reach out and let it be known that you need a regular, dependable backup system. This is for you and the person you are caring for. What would happen to your loved one with dementia, if you were suddenly impaired?
Published On: February 04, 2008