Hollywood can be a great platform for providing mass exposure to many of the issues and challenges that plague society. It’s like the cliché, “art imitates life.”
For example, the film “Still Alice” portrays some of the challenges families endure when a loved one suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. The success of the film, and the awards won by its leading lady, Julianne Moore, has brought awareness of these trials to the forefront of society.
However, when the lights of the theater dissipate and the box office numbers dwindle, the real-life caregivers and their challenges with loved ones who are struggling with Alzheimer’s disease remain.
Caregivers Have a Lot to Juggle
New research has demonstrated that there is a growing population of caregivers who are managing the dual role of working full time and providing full-time care. These caregivers live a double life.
The way the American health care system is currently set up, it is expected that a family member will provide the primary care for a senior with a chronic illness like dementia. This expectation causes issues for spouses, adult children and other family members who must be present and productive at work, provide comprehensive care for a senior, and make time for their own families.
I personally lived this challenge when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Achieving a balance was difficult for me, even though I shared the caregiving responsibilities with my brother and my mother. During the last seven years of my dad’s life, we all experienced some tough trials.
My brother and I quickly realized that we were actually caring for two older adults: one with Alzheimer’s (Dad) and our mother, who was his primary caregiver. Mom did whatever she could for Dad, and this took a toll on her health as well. The other challenge my brother and I faced was trying to maintain our full-time careers and family life while looking after our parents.
Seeking Out Help is Mandatory
At first glance, full-time care in a nursing home or memory care community may seem like the most appropriate option for someone with Alzheimer’s. But, as was the case with my family, many cannot afford care in such facilities. While this is a reality for many in the United States, it does not mean that there aren't other more affordable options available.
The three of us (my mom, my brother and I) made the decision to keep Dad at home for as long as possible, and we chose in-home care to assist us in this endeavor. He successfully stayed at home until his final 90 days of life, when we could no longer provide the skilled medical care he needed. At that point, he moved into a nursing home.
The times I had to manage with my father alone were very difficult. Frequently I had to take time off from work to get him to doctor’s visits or help my mother manage his difficult behaviors. However, I was fortunate that I had an understanding employer and family members who could work together well and were open to hiring outside help.
Many caregivers are managing all of this on their own. Regardless of your situation, you must seek out as much help as possible. Do not try to endure the challenge alone. Let friends and family know that you need assistance. You may not want to have the conversation, but talk to your boss about caregiving. Research all kinds of outside help until you find an appropriate solution you can afford. Even a few hours of respite each week are well worth the effort.
Family caregivers must continue to give a voice to the challenges they experience. Try your best to remain open to all possible solutions and communicate honestly with the people in your life. The resources and opportunities that become available may surprise you.