Project Independence answers your questions dealing with aging. This week, both questions involve caregiver burnout. Hopefully, the answers help not only the persons asking the questions, but all caregivers who are struggling to make it through the day.
Q. I’m a fulltime caregiver for my husband who has a dementia related illness and I found your first column interesting. I’m struggling with my caregiving responsibilities taking over my whole life. How do I get some part of my life back?
First of all, thank you for asking a question that so many caregivers struggle with. It’s critical to your role as caregiver and to your own health to make time for yourself or you will begin to experience burnout. Start by lining up someone to care for your husband for a few hours, once or twice a week or more. This can be a family member, close friend or consider utilizing Adult Day. Then make a list of your favorite things to do and spend that free time doing something for yourself.
Can’t think of anything to do? Try some of these: make a lunch/dinner date with friends or former co-workers, join yoga or exercise class, spend time at the library, bowl, volunteer, read a book, or take a class.
It’s never easy to fit in time to do things for yourself; however, it is a necessity!
Q. A year ago, my husband was diagnosed with stage 3 adenocarcinoma of the lung. At first, we believed there was hope of recovery, but after two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation; we learned the cancer has spread to his brain and bones. He refuses to go into hospice care, is irritable and confused most of the time and I have to do everything for him. This man, who was once a walking encyclopedia, is now unable to even operate the TV remote. I am alone without family nearby, so I’m responsible for all the household duties and taking care of his current needs. I’m unable to sleep so I sit up all night researching his disease on the internet and drinking wine.
I am very angry and now I’m questioning how long this will go on? When will he die? I feel horrible for even thinking this way, but I really don’t know how much longer I can do this. Any advice would be enormously helpful.
Angry all the time
Thank you for your honesty; I applaud your courage. Caregiving requires an active support network and you have taken the first step toward creating this for yourself by reaching out. You are describing many of the symptoms experienced in caregiver grief and depression, which without intervention, can lead to complete burnout and breakdown. The pressures you are facing alone right now are placing your mental and physical health in great jeopardy. It’s completely normal to question how long—if only we had a crystal ball. Often we think if we had a timeline to follow, we would know what to do and when to do it. My experience has shown that there is more value in cherishing each moment as is it was all we had.
First, schedule an appointment to see your primary care provider. Be brutally honest with your doctor about how you are feeling and together establish a plan to get your mental and physical health back on track. This may include additional supports like psychological counseling or involving other professionals. With proper support, you can regain your health and be present for your husband in a way that may surprise you. This experience you are navigating through has the potential to hold great meaning and value for you and, believe me; you will never forget the lessons learned. You will look back with pride and gratitude for having had the opportunity to be part of your husband’s last days.
Second, join a caregiver support group. Project Independence has a group that meets the first Wednesday of every month from 4:30-6 p.m. and has staff onsite to care for your loved one. For more information, call 802.476.3630. Central Vermont Council on Aging also offers support for caregivers; contact Barb at 802.476.2681
If you or a loved one has questions about aging and what services are available locally, submit your questions to Project Independence, 81 No. Main St, Suite 1, Barre, VT 05641-4283 or to The World, 403 US Rte 302-Berlin, Barre, VT 05641