Caregiver Honor Roll: Tracey Jackson
For seven years, Tracey Jackson has been caring for her mother, Edna, in Tracey's home in Hoover, Alabama. Edna, who celebrated her 82nd birthday in early October, is on medication for the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, is recovering from a stroke, and struggles with incontinence.
Tracey isn't new to family caregiving. She previously assisted with the care of her uncle (Dennis), aunt (Mary), and father (H.T.). Edna is also a previous caregiver, having cared for her mom and siblings before they died. "She always took care of everyone else," Tracey says. "While she tires me to no end, I wouldn't think of doing anything else but giving her the care that I know she would give us."
Tracey has been among the "sandwich generation" of family caregivers, or those caring for an older relative while also raising or supporting children. Tracey and her husband Gene have a teenage daughter who left home this fall to attend college. "At times, I feel for my daughter for having grown up in a home with a grandma's change in behavior," Tracey says. "Christina understands her grandma's condition now more than ever, and she volunteered in the memory unit of a retirement community in our hometown."
Biggest caregiving challenges
Tracey finds herself most challenged by "balancing family, career, and being a caregiver," as well as with "the loss of a personal life." To get some respite, last May she used Caring.com's Senior Living Directory to find a part-time professional in-home caregiver for her mom. "Thanks to this site, I found Homewatch Caregivers, and I might get to go out to dinner with my sweetie from time to time!"
Tracey feels that she's aged a lot in the last few years: "I look at myself in the mirror and say, 'Ugghh!' And I don't have the will or strength to do anything outside of my home." Some days are harder than others, particularly when there are other life factors causing stress or fatigue. "We all cry. I believe our tears make us stronger," she says. "The love I have for my mom makes every day worth the stress."
Tracey often posts on Caring.com about how much she wants her mom back. "I miss my mother; she has become a different person because of this illness," Tracey says. "She was my buddy. We used to enjoy traveling to New York City to paint the town red. We all long for and wish that our loved ones could be themselves for just one more day. I find myself praying for it often."
In October, Tracey and Edna were sitting at the dining table having a "normal" conversation when, "Boom! Mom forgot who I was, midsentence," Tracey says. For five minutes, Edna mistook her daughter for her deceased sister. "I tried to stay calm, but boy oh boy, was I hurt."
Tracey is an annual contributor to nonprofits supporting Alzheimer's research, such as the Alzheimer's Association and Fisher Center. Caring.com was mentioned in one of the nonprofit e-mails Tracey received, which led her to our free Steps & Stages resource for Alzheimer's caregiving ("Thank God!" she says). Tracey is now among the self-proclaimed "one-winged angels" -- caregivers participating in an online support group for those whose loved ones have a moderate stage of Alzheimer's or dementia. "I've really bonded with these folks," she says. "I learn beautiful lessons from them, get inspiration, and also laugh a lot with them."
Tips for other caregivers
Since joining Caring.com in March 2011, Tracey has contributed more than 250 comments in her Stage Group, sharing about her own experiences as well as offering support and advice to others. Among her tips:
You must learn patience. "Oh, how many times my mother has thought she'd won the sweepstakes, new cars, etc. If I don't throw the junk in the trash quickly, she gets it and we have the same conversation about the 'new car' over and over," Tracey says. "You have to take a step back and breathe. Get your mind settled, and then approach the issue or task at hand."
Know that you are not alone. "We all have our crosses to bear," she says. "We all get angry, anxious, scared, and depressed at times. We stand on common ground."
Get involved in a support group. "Our group on Caring.com is a godsend," she says. "We help each other with everyday issues. I can log on at 4 a.m. and have someone to talk to -- or vent to. The prayers and words of encouragement are the best."
Try to find humor in every day. Tracey enjoys many a giggle with her Stage Group "sistahs" -- trading stories about the dementia-related antics of their loved ones, using laughter as a way to cope. "You cannot stop them from having the delusions," she says. "Try not getting into an argument about it. Try to find some humor in it."
Favorite song, book, or movie shared with loved one
Tracey and Edna share two favorite songs: "You Are My Sunshine," and "Stand" by American gospel singer and Christian minister Donnie McClurkin. "My mother loves music," says Tracey, "so I try to play music for her as often as possible. It calms her."
Tracey's lovable lapdog, Peanut, also has a calming effect on her mom. "If my mother isn't feeling well, my little puppy girl knows it and will stay by her side until she feels better."
One morning, Edna had a lucid moment in which she noticed Tracey's outfit and suggested she add heels. "That doesn't sound like much, but before her illnesses, she was quite the fashionista," says Tracey. "To have her give me one moment of her just being 'my mama' was priceless."
We hope you'll share your supportive comments with Tracey below, or send her a virtual hug or prayer via her Caring.com profile.