Guest blogger, Derek Hobson, shares how the difficulties that caregivers encounter can help us grow. Welcome Derek.
Caring for an Elder with Dementia: Top 3 Negatives Made Positive
By: Derek Hobson
Becoming a family caregiver wasn’t easy and there were times where I downright loathed all the responsibilities. But when my grandmother passed away and my duties were lifted, there was this… elation that occurred. I don’t want it to sound like I was thankful that she passed, because certainly the first few weeks were dreadful, but I didn’t want to feel guilty for feeling relieved that she had found peace. Part of what made me feel less guilty was the fact that I had contributed in such a big way, but more than that, I felt less guilt because caring for my grandmother made me capable of handling so much more.
At the time, of course, many of the tasks were unbearable (which I’ll get to in the list), but once they were completed for the final time, I saw how my grandmother had helped me grow. Things that I hated doing, made me more prepared for future situations. It’s almost like – no, it absolutely is like yin and yang. Two supposedly opposite sensations, turned out to be complementary. By struggling to take care of my grandmother, I found the positives in every negative task. Admittedly, that not make a ton of sense without context, so here are my top 3 negatives made positive.
1. Sleeping in Front of the Door
My grandmother had dementia and even though we wheeled her around the house, she was not confined to the wheelchair. While it wasn’t often, a few times she would sometimes stumble out of bed and walk around the house in the night. It could’ve been much worse, I mean, I’ve heard of stories of seniors leaving the house at night and wandering around the neighborhood. While this never happened to my family, my grandfather would not hear of it; his precaution was to rotate who would sleep in front of the door to make sure she didn’t wander off.
This wasn’t simply uncomfortable, it was unnecessary! I made multiple suggestions for how we could seal the door, set up a blockade, or rig a bell, but my mother reminded me it wasn’t simply making my grandmother comfortable, but my grandfather as well. So, I begrudgingly slept in front of her door on more than a few occasions.
At the time, I never would’ve thought this would evolve into a positive thing, but it has. I don’t know how many people have researched power-napping. The idea being that if you nap for 15 minutes, you’ll feel as refreshed as if you slept for two hours (or 8 hours in some cases). Well, I could NEVER power-nap. I never knew how long to set my alarm for because I needed some time to fall asleep, but then, if I set my alarm for 20 minutes, I would be thinking of how limited my time is, I’d be counting it down rather than focusing on getting to sleep; it was dreadful!
Now though? After sleeping in front of my grandmother’s door, I can sleep practically anywhere. It may sound silly, but it’s a great thing. If I had a long night and have a big presentation in the morning, I nap for 15 minutes in my car, get up and do it. If I’m exhausted after the gym, but it’s still early in the evening, then I’ll nap for 15 minutes, and head out. I can sleep in my car, on a plane, the stairs – I haven’t tried it, but I’m sure I could. I am definitely better for it.
Eventually, my grandmother’s dementia became so bad that she couldn’t form sentences anymore. However, when it hadn’t progressed that far, she would talk to me, tell me stories, and ask me questions… and then repeat those questions and those stories. The repetitiveness made me so frustrated – especially when I thought about what I’d rather be doing.
Now, this negative didn’t happen overnight, but after several months, I realized what a unique blessing this could be. I’d often been told that I wasn’t a good listener… well, actually, if I’m being honest, I was told, “you don’t respect people when they talk to you,” which seemed harsh at the time. However, as time went on, I realized what that meant; the very thing, I said above, that I grew frustrated when I thought about what I’d rather be doing.
When I stopped thinking of where I’d rather be or who I’d rather be with, I started listening and was given the gift of communication. When my grandmother repeated questions to me, I didn’t always answer with clarity or with specifics. I would answer robotically or with generic answers. Later though, I started actively listening and really empathized with my grandmother. There was a stark difference between when I would just answer monotonously and when I actually started responding.
Since then, I’ve noticed in my personal life that I butt heads with people less often and when I do it’s resolved with concise communication.
3. The Stuff You Don’t Want To Do
I never used to talk about this stuff openly, but it’s something I’m sure many family caregivers experience. The stuff you don’t want to do… specifically dressing, bathing and any sort of clean-up that needs to happen.
My grandfather was a saint and tried to take all this on by himself, but even he needed a break and of course, that meant I was runner-up.
I’m not going to lie to you and say that I enjoyed any of this stuff… looking back, I’m actually surprised I managed at all. But without going into the details, I have since learned that I can handle just about anything. If it’s gross, sticky, smelly – doesn’t matter!
I’m still a young guy (relatively), but when my friends asked me to look after their kid for a day, I changed diapers with the best of them. I’m sure there are people who are pretty squeamish, but with no previous experience with babies, I could change diapers and clean spills without any uneasiness. Pretty much anything others don’t want to do, I do without a second thought.
Again, these aren’t things I relished at the time, but they’ve had a positive impact on my everyday life. Being a caregiver is not easy by any stretch of the imagination and it’s why I’m thankful that today I can work with a handful of people who actively lessen the load of family caregivers, but the rewards are manifold and actionable.
Derek Hobson, BA, is the editor for ConciergeCareAdvisors.com, a senior care referral agency. He developed a passion for elder care when he became the primary caregiver for his grandmother. Since then, he has sought to inspire fellow caregivers as “there is no success without hardship.”