It’s been nearly a decade since I began sharing my personal caregiving stories with the public, first via the book "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories" and later through a newspaper column, on my own blog and then contributing to major websites such as Healthcentral.com.
When I first started sharing my stories and looking for others who had similar tales to tell, people tended to be reticent about speaking up. Now, sharing caregiver "in the trenches" stories has become a major part of caregiver self-care and even survival.
Because of my long Internet history, I’m often interviewed in print and on radio. A recent radio interview on a show called "Doing What Works," hosted by Maureen Anderson, touched on many topics that I’ve written about for Healthcentral.com over time, so I’m sharing links to those stories here for those who want to dig deeper.
The first question Maureen asked is how my caregiving career evolved. For me, it started with Joe. My elderly neighbor, Joe, had suddenly lost his wife to a stroke. His only child lived hundreds of miles away. Joe, who was in his 80s, was 100 percent deaf and for all practical purposes alone. How could I not help?
My children were then young, and we basically adopted Joe as part of our lives until his death five years later. From Joe, my caregiving went on to include my childless aunt and uncle, my in-laws and eventually my parents. It wasn’t all as neatly arranged as that, but in all, seven beloved elders developed health issues complex enough that they needed significant care while I juggled their needs with the needs of my core family.
The next question from Maureen is one hot topic these days. How is do people take care of parents who were once abusive to us when we were defenseless children? Even though I was fortunate to have loving parents, I know many caregivers who did not. They came from highly dysfunctional families and they ask me tough questions. I’ve addressed the question of how to approach caregiving when your parents didn’t take good care of you as well as how to take care of aging parents who are still abusive in articles on Healthcentral.com as well as in the interview.
From there, Maureen went on to the topic of caregiver self-care. I told her that we go into caregiving - often just gradually providing a little care here and there - thinking this is short term. For most people, the caregiving tasks increase and last much longer than anticipated. I now know that I should have taken better care of myself from the start but as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.
I hope, through my work with caregivers, that I can help others do what I didn’t do for myself. I hope to help them learn the importance of self-care. One article in particular that I wrote for Healthcentral.com brings home the fact that long-term caregiving can shorten the life of a caregiver by eight to 10 years. This information comes from a well respected study done by Ohio State University.
Maureen wrapped up her show with a discussion of how we go about deciding whether or not we place our loved ones in nursing homes, especially those of us who’ve made the fateful promise to never do that. If you’ve made that promise or are thinking about it, you will want to read Breaking the Sacred Promise: It’s Time for a Nursing Home. If you are suffering guilt from such a decision, you may want to read about getting over the guilt.
Maureen and I discussed many other issues during these segments. If readers would care to listen to Maureen Anderson on "Doing What Works", just click the link, kick back and relax while she puts me though my paces.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.