Caregiver Honor Roll: Martha Huggart
The Caregiver Honor Roll pays homage to family caregivers, like Martha Huggart.
Martha lives next door to her parents in Raymond, Mississippi, and is currently caring for them and her husband, Jim (who has diabetes and has suffered from a non-healing foot wound for three months). Her mother, Ruth, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's more than eight years ago and recently suffered a minor stroke. Martha, an only child, helps her father, Grady, with daily care for Ruth. Ruth and Grady have been married for more than 60 years, and Martha is mother to five grown children (three of her own; two she helped Jim raise), as well as grandmother to six.
Biggest caregiving challenges
Initially, Martha's biggest challenges were not knowing enough about Alzheimer's disease and what to expect from it, as well as helping her dad accept the reality of the situation and be a better caregiver. Unfortunately, Martha says, he has remained in denial about Ruth's situation. For example, after one recent hospitalization, Grady wanted to take her to a family reunion the next day. "He just doesn't understand that she doesn't need to be dragged all over the place," Martha says.
Martha has said that some of her aunts, likewise, don't fully understand Ruth's condition and care needs. "They don't really know what we face every day. It's frustrating to give the best you can and have it still not be good enough for the rest of your family," Martha says.
For a while, Ruth was receiving substandard care in a nursing home, where her belongings were stolen and she went hungry or soiled for hours at a time. Now back at home, Ruth goes to adult daycare three days a week. "It has been a godsend for my dad. It gives him the freedom to go to his doctor's appointments and do yard work or anything else he might like to do," Martha says. "At first, I was afraid Mom wouldn't like it, since Alzheimer's patients like stability, routine, and familiar places. But she likes it so much, she wants to stay when I go to pick her up!"
Daily feedings and medications for Ruth remain challenging for Martha and her dad. While Ruth can still feed herself, she's starting to stop mid-meal and someone has to finish feeding her. It has also taken time and effort (even a stint in a geriatric psych unit) to figure out the right mix of medications for Ruth. "Now she does good when she takes all her medications -- but when she won't, it's a 'bad day at Black Rock'," says Martha.
Martha is grateful for the moments she is able to connect with her mom. "I still talk to my mom and share my thoughts and feelings like I used to do. She'll smile and try to talk back," says Martha. "A lot of times, she'll turn to me and tell me that I'm pretty or that I'm wearing something nice. I know she doesn't really understand, but at least she's still there to talk to, and the very act of sharing with her helps me most of the time."
Martha is also grateful for her husband. "Jim has been very understanding and supportive of me," she says. He spends quality time with her dad, and before his foot injury, he helped Grady around the farm.
Sometimes, though, the stress of caregiving takes its toll on Martha. "I find myself doing really dumb things and forgetting stuff momentarily," she says. "I've passed memory tests with flying colors and have been told numerous times that it's only stress that's making me this way."
Overall, Martha tends to maintain a positive outlook. While helping support another caregiver on a Caring.com blog post, she wrote, "Don't lose sight of the fact that your mom was a good friend and your children can be just as wonderful as friends. My children and I talk, text, or phone each other every day, and it's wonderful to keep up with the blessings in their lives. Just remember: Look for gloom and you will find it, but if you look for happiness, that too you will find."
After searching the Internet seeking information to help with care for her mom, Martha found Caring.com and "a community of people who are dealing with the same things as me." She says the articles help her explain to her dad that "it's the disease, not Mom," and she's particularly fond of the blogs, especially the award-winning Dad Has Dementia series.
Martha is also a fan of the new resource Caring Steps & Stages for Alzheimer's caregivers. "It's geared toward my mom's stage of Alzheimer's, so I can get information specific to what I'm experiencing," she says. "The tips are very helpful, both in helping me know how to take care of my mom and in reminding me to take care of myself."
Martha says she refers others (including members of her family) to Caring.com and Steps & Stages. "It's exciting to be a part of something new that can help so many people understand the patient's situation," she says.
Tips for other caregivers
Martha's suggestions for other family caregivers include:
Live in the moment. "Take each moment as it comes -- not each hour, day, week, month -- each moment," she says. "If you have to concern yourself with the future, just worry about what to wear, or what day to go to daycare or the doctor, and so on."
Don't sweat the small stuff, and consider the source. When family won't help you with the caregiving, know that it is they who are missing out on a special blessing.
Have faith. "I trust in the Lord to take care of everything," Martha says. "My faith has been my true sustainer throughout all the troubles my family has had. I really don't know where I would be without the Lord to hold me up."
Remember that life is fleeting and not necessarily easy. "When your loved one gets too hard to handle, just smile, tell 'em that you love 'em, and remember, this too shall pass," she says. "Life is never easy, no matter who you are and what you face. It is what it is, and it will be what you make of it. Just live it."
She adds the biggest tip she would give to anyone: keep your sense of humor and constantly look for things to laugh at, even if it's yourself.
Favorite song, book, or movie shared with loved one
As Caring.com senior editor Paula Spencer points out in an article about nontraditional therapies for Alzheimer's patients, "someone with Alzheimer's might not remember breakfast, yet the lyrics of old favorites from 50 or 60 years ago may be at the tip of her tongue." Martha has also read that an Alzheimer's patient's love for music is one of the last things to fade away. "My mom loves to watch the Bill Gaither Homecoming gospel series, and when we're in the car, we listen to Southern gospel music," she says. "Mom will often try to clap her hands or tap her leg in time with the beat." Ruth tries to sing hymns at church, too, particularly if they're old favorites.
The Waltons television show is also special to Ruth and Martha. Ruth used to love watching it weekly on television. Also an only child, she told Martha that the show made her think of what it must have been like for her husband, Grady, when he was growing up with his 11 brothers and sisters, along with many aunts, uncles, and cousins.
We hope you'll share your supportive comments with Martha below, or send her a virtual hug or prayer via her Caring.com profile.
I am inspired by the dedication and love that Martha and her dad, Grady, have for Ruth. Alzheimers is a cruel, cruel disease and is heart-breaking to see the personality of the person you love slowly slip away. My mother-in-law has Alzheimers and is in a nearby memory care facility. My husband and I oversee her care and visit her daily. The thing I miss most is hearing her talk. She is well physically but mentally she is gone forever. But we still make our best effort to spend time with her and let her know how much we love her. The thing that hurts the most is family that is not supportive or blames us for her condition and where we have her. Of course, they never have once been to see her. But it still hurts because we are trying so very hard to help make her life the best we can...under the circumstances. God bless ALL caregivers, Alzheimers patients and the families that go above and beyond to care for them.