The Caregiver Honor Roll pays homage to family caregivers, such as Brad Veitch.
Brad cares for his mom, Marion, from a distance. He's based in Moraga, California, and she lives independently about 270 miles away. In May 2010, Brad learned that his mom, who was "usually on top of everything," was suddenly having some financial issues, and he noticed that their phone conversations -- which had previously been filled with laughter, reminiscing, and occasional tears -- were starting to feel disjointed, the information they discussed "not feeling right." Brad is Marion's only surviving child and now has a durable power of attorney. He expects his mother will be diagnosed with Alzheimer's; she is currently medicated for dementia.
Biggest caregiving challenges
Looking after a loved one from afar includes a variety of financial, logistical, and emotional challenges. Brad has recently been unemployed, and the added expenses of long-distance caregiving are impacting his savings. While he travels to see Marion as often as he can, he also makes frequent long-distance phone calls (not only to her, but also to doctors and service providers), and he coordinates local care for her.
Unfortunately, Marion lives 30 miles from the offices of local care agencies, which means additional fees for travel. Using tips from a Caring.com article about hiring in-home help, Brad has instead opted for an independent aide with solid references and a track record of good work in Marion's community. "Thanks be to God!" he says. "The article was very helpful. I learned important details and picked up pieces of wisdom to include in my hiring."
In the course of about three months, Marion went from being a fairly high-functioning, independent 89-year-old woman to a forgetful, agitated, frail lady who had given thousands of dollars away to strangers over the phone. Brad felt literally thrown into a blender of mixed anger, loss, grief, determination, and love. He wanted to run away, hide, hold her tight -- anything but face the future.
Specific tasks were difficult to tackle. Brad found it hard dealing with Marion's anger about changing her phone number of more than 60 years. She also couldn't understand why he had to close the checking account, or "take away her checks." She couldn't believe she had been scammed, and it was hard to prove it to her. Brad says, "We did a lot of talking, crying, and hugging during that visit."
Thankfully, Brad says, he had several of Marion's friends "right alongside me, holding me up and helping me through the dark times." They were already taking Marion to the doctor, checking in on her daily, calling her throughout the day, and making sure she was OK. "Now they were reaching out to include me," says Brad. "It was reassuring to know we were a team, and that I wasn't alone."
Brad also jumped on the Internet and found Caring.com. Here, Brad says, he found information he could access quickly and use right away. Learning about others in the same position reinforces that he isn't alone. "On Caring.com, I've connected emotionally with other caregivers going through the same type of journey," he says.
Brad finds Steps & Stages particularly helpful. "It reflects what I've come to expect from Caring.com: good, solid information that's humanized," he says. "The suggestions in the Custom Care Guide are outstanding, and I like the interactivity, which allows me to focus the tool on my mom's situation yet also consider other alternatives and variations. It takes an Internet full of information and trims it down to a size I can handle, saving me hours of reading and giving me practical results I can use today."
Tips for other caregivers
In commenting on a New York Times blog post about Caring Steps & Stages, Brad described himself as "a relative rookie with less than a year of caregiving and lots of questions." Yet he already has many tips to share with others:
Listen and observe carefully what's happening with your loved one. Brad says that one of his early mistakes was to assume, "that was a little thing" or "that was one mere forgetful moment." When he started observing more carefully, he saw the confusion or disorientation.
Differentiate between your loved one and the illness. During good times, Brad and his mom talk about the "bad mind," which is not her. They get emphatic and angry together about it, and then they commit to getting through it together. They also affirm the good times, which still come often. This has made it easier for Brad to talk with his mom about the changes they don't want to make but have to, like bringing in a companion every day. Marion will assert that she's independent and capable when Brad and she are discussing a new restriction, and he affirms that she is able when the "good mind" is working, but not so much when the "bad mind" takes over.
Know the new, unpleasant side of your loved one that's created by the illness. Handle it with care, tenderness, and speed. The first time you experience this behavior, it will probably shock you. Be ready for the shock and know that it signals one of these changes. For example, in the early days of their journey, while Brad was visiting Marion, they had been doing some hard talking about the choices they were facing. Brad knew she was upset. They hugged, said their "I love you's," and went to bed. About twenty minutes later, Marion stormed into Brad's room and with hostility told him that he was no son of hers, that he was betraying her. After a few minutes, they agreed he would leave the next day. The next morning, Marion asked Brad what happened and tearfully apologized. Both were frightened by the unusual behavior and knew it wasn't the "real" Marion. It became another challenge they've faced together.
Start planning early for everything that might happen. There so many surprises that the more you can anticipate and get ahead of, the better you'll handle it all.
Listen to what people around your loved one are saying -- and are not saying. No one has told Brad that they're tiring of looking in on Marion. But he wonders how long, realistically, they can continue to do it daily. By listening to them, Brad says he's learned the reality of what's happening with Marion -- and about the love they're sharing with her.
Favorite song, book, or movie shared with loved one
The Bible has been particularly important to the family, so Brad and Marion will recall scripture and talk about times it was meaningful to them in the past. They also read passages and reflect on their current application. Some of their favorites are from Jeremiah, John, and Psalms.
When Brad left for college, Marion started a Guideposts magazine subscription for him. She has kept it going all these years. So they talk about the stories, quotations, and inspiration from Guideposts. At Christmas, they find the magazine especially meaningful. Often they'll retell their favorite stories from years past.
This month, Marion turns 90. Her extended family will be gathering in her home to celebrate and share support for her and Brad. They're preparing for the next stage of her care, introducing the in-home caregiver into Marion's daily life. "It will be a battle," Brad says, "but I think we're equipped to face it more smoothly together just because we've been through so much, so fast, already."
We hope you'll share your supportive comments with Brad below, or send him a virtual hug or prayer via his Caring.com profile.