Caregiver Honor Roll: Laura Leyrer
The Caregiver Honor Roll pays homage to family caregivers, such as Laura Leyrer.
Laura Leyrer takes care of her 83-year-old mother, Evelyn, with the help of her brother and husband, in Macomb County, Michigan. Up until ten years ago, Evelyn lived in Laura's home, but then she decided to move to an independent living community near other family members. This move resulted in a 100-mile round-trip every time Laura and her husband or brother wanted to see her. And after a few years there, it was clear that Evelyn was slipping. By 2012, Laura and her brother needed to seek alternative care options for Evelyn's needs.
In addition to early severe-stage Alzheimer's, Evelyn has less than 15 percent of her vision left due to glaucoma. She also has a cataract on one eye, which further weakens her vision. A full-time high school teacher and caregiver for her mother, Laura stays positive and on her feet. "As exhausting as the long-distance caregiving has been, I don't mind it," she says.
Biggest caregiving challenges
Being so many miles away from her mom, Laura was only able to see her every seven to ten days. Though systems were put into place with the help of family members nearby, Evelyn's symptoms started getting in the way of the care she was receiving. She began losing memory, accusing people of stealing, and believing that family caretakers were coming into her apartment with ulterior motives. As her health declined, Evelyn would also refuse help with cleaning, bathing, or cooking. Furthermore, her condition and vision problems made it more difficult for Laura and her family to tend to all of Evelyn's care needs.
Laura sought help from the Alzheimer's Association, which offered solutions for sighted clients, as well as the Association for the Blind, which offered solutions that would have been great for people with normal memory. "As you can see," says Laura, "We were stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place."
With all of these factors in mind, Laura and her brother decided to search for assisted living and memory care units near their homes. Laura became involved with the Caring.com community as she did her research. "Moving my mom has been an ordeal, but we are on the road and there's no looking back," Laura wrote in her Stage Group, an online support group on Caring.com for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia. "I visited an assisted living and memory care facility yesterday. Not one of the first five people I saw were smiling ... Today my husband and I visited a facility specifically designed for residents needing memory care. It was nice, the people friendly, but it cost $5,000 and only accepted private pay."
The choice to move to assisted living is one of the most important decisions family caregivers make. Watching her mom slip for several years, Laura and her brother were getting closer to the point where they had to find a different plan, as their current caregiving situation was no longer working well. In addition, Laura and her brother face opposition from family about their decision. "I'm stuck between two generations who are fighting me tooth and nail," explains Laura.
Furthermore, Laura is sad to see her mom's attitude change as her ailments progress. "I get frustrated, angry, desperate at times. But I know it's the disease that's making the woman who used to be my best friend act this way," she says. "I remind myself of that on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis." Laura is frightened of what comes next and grieves for the person she's lost, but who is not yet gone.
Tips for other caregivers
Laura shares a few foundational tips to help equip other caregivers throughout their journey:
Appreciate the staff of the assisted living community you choose. Searching for and selecting the right assisted living facility for aging loved ones can be both time-consuming and overwhelming. When evaluating a care facility, find a staff that can provide the support needed for you and your loved one. "I cannot say enough wonderful things about the people in Mom's community. As fragile and scared as your mom seems to you, the staff is used to it and able to care for her much more efficiently than we are," Laura explains. "They become an amazing support for you."
Find a network of support and get respite. Many times, caregivers feel frightened and alone when dealing with problems. You need others around so you can vent, if for no other reason. "With Alzheimer's, you're often tackling problems that affect the very person that you would have ordinarily turned to for help with decisions like these!" says Laura. "You're fighting against a monster that will win every single time, but you have to keep fighting. I feel so lucky to have my brother, who is supportive and funny. I laugh more than cry when I'm around him, and I know he'll step up now that Mom lives closer."
Don't equate your love with your effort. When Laura was trying to move her mom to assisted living, a fellow caregiver gave her invaluable insight: "Who says that we have to suffer to show our love?" Laura can relate. "I felt like if I wasn't driving myself to the point of exhaustion with worry and work, then I wasn't giving enough of myself. Bologna!" she says. "Becoming exhausted and emotionally depleted only means you have less quality effort to dedicate to the fight."
Favorite song, book, or movie shared with loved one
Ever since Evelyn's Alzheimer's has gotten worse, she's started changing her opinion about old favorites. However, she occasionally hums the song "How About You" by Frank Sinatra, which Laura remembers from her childhood. "My husband and I went to see Mom this evening and I said, 'Mom, do you remember a song about New York in June?' She thought for a second, then slowly started to sing. I sang along and prompted her when she forgot the words. It really got to me. We used to dance around in the kitchen in our little cottage in Canada when I was a little girl and Mom would sing that song to me, substituting 'Mickey Mouse's looks' for James Durante's. Seems like yesterday and it just breaks my heart. I miss her so much."
We hope you'll share your supportive comments with Laura below, or send her a virtual hug or prayer via her Caring.com profile.
Dear Laura, I just read your story. Thank you for sharing that. I caretake my 95 yr old mom, and she loves to sing. She sings along with the TV, I can get her singing to the car radio, and she ends most nights singing Silent Night to herself in bed. I hear her on the baby monitor after I'm in bed too. There have been a few youtube videos showing the effect of music/headphones on Alz patients. It is amazing how it can bring them to life. Love & Hugs to you from Oregon. Kathleen