Question: My mother, who is 68, has been taking care of her sister, who is 75, for the last eight years. Her sister has a form of mental retardation brought on by an early childhood illness, scarlet fever. Mom takes care of her sister very well, but she is becoming very stressed, angry, and confused. She has nobody to talk to. Could you recommend someone in she could talk to about how to handle daily living events and to show her how to deal with the emotional end of taking care of someone with special needs? She has to learn to not mix emotional feelings with care giving. I really need some hope, help and change for my mother. Is there a nurse or therapist that can talk to her on this subject? And offer help on caregiving at home.
Dr. Amy: Every few months, someone sends me an email containing the parable of the glass of water. The fact that this keeps circulating is proof, I think, that it’s helpful and a good reminder about the effects of stress. Are you familiar with this story, in which a teacher holds up a glass of water and ask her students how much the glass weighs? After students guess different weights, the teacher says, “it depends.”
Her point is that if you hold a glass of water for a few minutes, it’s no strain at all. But if you hold it for a few hours, your arm will hurt. And if you carry it for a day, the weight becomes unbearable and you will be very sore and numb. It not the absolute weight of the burden we carry—it’s also how long we carry it without rest. Your mother needs someone to help her with her caregiving work—both the physical and the emotional side of things— so that she can rest. Then she can carry on, refreshed and able to meet the challenges she faces.
A good place to start is with a solid plan. If your mom can afford it, a geriatric care manager can be a huge help. They can assess your mother’s sister, your mother, and their needs. You can find a listing of geriatric care managers in your area at caremanager.org. Simply click on, “find a care manager”.
It really sounds like your mother would benefit from some help with caregiving and other task support. She also needs emotional support. You asked for information about resources in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Home care companies like Home Instead Senior Care can help with caregiving and task support. A professional caregiver can take care of your mother’s sister while your mom takes a break. They can also take care of tasks like laundry, light housekeeping, and errands. You can reach them at 920-803-0188. The Home Instead Senior Care website also has a number of great resources. I encourage you both to check it out.
At the same time, a support group can also help. The simple act of sharing your story with others can bring relief. The emotional support and friendship fellow members offer can be very sustaining. Being with people who are in similar situations and exchanging coping techniques is empowering.
Lastly, you mention that your mother is getting confused. I wonder if there might be something going on with her health. I encourage you to make an appointment with her doctor to make sure that she is perfectly well.
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