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Warning: Caregiving Could be Hazardous to Your Health


It took a near-disaster on a brisk November night to get my attention and make me realize that good caregiving intentions can easily turn into risks. You can push your luck only so far.

I could call this post Part 2. If you read my blog last month, you know my 91-year-old dad had a couple of back-to-back, long-distance health scares that sent me reeling. These unexpected caregiving emergencies left me wondering what other problem might be just around the corner. Little did I know then, the next mishap was going to be all about me and my husband.

It was time for Dad’s follow-up appointment at his Veteran’s Service medical provider. I’d made this trip several times before for Dad’s doctor visits, and it went something like this:

Leave my house about 6 a.m., drive three hours and 15 minutes to Dad’s home, pick him up and drive another hour to the doctor’s office. Then grab lunch or a snack, drive back another hour to take Dad to his place, and then head back the three-plus hours to my house.

In my defense, I found I could do this, without speeding . . . much . . . and still get home by 8 at night. Such a short trip still gave me the chance to spend quality time talking and reminiscing with Dad while minimizing my time away from work and family.

I thought I handled this little jaunt quite nicely, thank you very much. Until one night when I wandered home all glassy-eyed from fatigue and told my husband I wasn’t sure what direction I was headed or how I found my way home. “You’re not doing this anymore,” he said, matter-of-factly.

My husband arranged his work schedule to go with me on future doctor trips. So we started out one November morning for Dad’s. All went as scheduled, Dad checked out great at the doctor’s and we headed for our home around dusk.

There’s a beautiful river valley outside my hometown where the deer frolic and play. November is mating season – also referred to as rut – which takes frolicking to a whole new level.

Just a few miles out of town, with my husband driving on a 60-mph state highway, we were startled as a plump young male deer bolted from a patch of tall weeds into the left front side of our car.

The impact rocked our vehicle as we veered toward the shoulder of the road. We’ve been told that deer have bad eyesight. I can testify to that since the poor guy looked terrified when we were eyeball-to-eyeball for those few seconds.

My husband pulled over and got out to check on the deer. No deer or blood trail in sight. The buck either went into the woods to die or, hopefully, continued on his quest for love.

We called law enforcement with our location, told them an injured deer might stagger back to the road and explained that our vehicle was OK to drive despite a partly-shattered headlight and plenty of other damage. So we carefully limped home in the darkness, still shaken.

I’m discovering that it’s hard enough as a family caregiver to stay safe and healthy without taking additional risks. In those few minutes, sitting in our vehicle pulled off to the side of the road on a cold Nebraska evening, I knew my travel decisions were not among my smartest – for me, my husband and, perhaps, other travelers as well.

Unfortunately, there is no caregiving service like the one I work for where Dad lives to take him to his doctor appointments. So I’ve decided to ask for help or, at the very least, try not to cram so much into one day.

Sometimes consequences affect others, including the seniors who depend on us, when we don’t take care of ourselves or make wise choices. It’s easy to push yourself to the brink without even thinking about it. Staring into the eyes of a buck was a good reminder.



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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. July 30, 2016 at 3:05 am | Posted by Richard Green

    I am a 57 year old man who has been caregiver for 1 or more family members from the time I was twenty. At twenty I took it upon myself to make sure her needs were met. At first it was transportation, home maintenance and things of that nature. I never resented it even though it required more on my part than it may have for other family members. This was because for as long as I could remember anytime you could spend with her was blessed time. This all began in 1978. Between 1978 and 1987 when not involved in personal relationships much of the time I stayed with her. Her needs were not that severe but the time was just as blessing. I married in 1987 and moved to a house my father owned and he had offered it rent free to get our lives started. It was supposed to be a 1 year gift but Dad insisted we continue with it for nearly 5. The women I married and love to this day was a victim of childhood sexual abuse by her adopted father starting at age 10. She told me this before we married and that as a child when she tried to tell her mother and the authorities would take actions to make her think it would be best if she recanted her allegations so she could return home(and suffer more abuse). So when I married her I understood there would be difficulties but their were solution I could help my find and work thru. Since they diagnosed in 1990 for PTSD, Bi-polar, depression and anxiety me beautiful wife has continued in therapy and as I said I couldn't imagine being married to anyone else. Sure it comes with problems but getting care and love can go a long way. When we left my dad's in 92 my grandmothers condition was worse as she had suffered several mini strokes. It was obvious regular visits were not enough and she needed to live with someone. We met as a family and my mother agreed that if her mother were to finance the remodel of her garage to living space my Grandmother could live with her. I knew friends who did it reasonably so it was placed on me to explain to the proposal to my grandmother which I did and my grandmother agreed. It was also agreed that in the interim since my wife and kids and I were between residences we would stay with Grandmother until the work was done. 2 month later shortly after the remodel was finished my mother spoke to me and stated she had come to the decision she really couldn't live with her mother and suggested a home as a solution. Having spent all the blessed time with my grandmother I stated that was not going to happen and I would continue my role as caregiver and left my employment with the federal government to do it. I added space to my grandmothers house so there could be room for us all. I made her 1100 square foot house a 1900 square foot house at my cost despite my grandmothers efforts to force me to take hers. My grandmother's body had suffered as she aged but her mind was sharp. She told me she had some legal matters to attend too and wanted to get to an attorney. I asked if she knew who she wanted to see, she gave a name which I recognized the last name as someone I had never met but had stories about many times as the person worked as a reporter with the same paper grandfather was an editor until his death in 1951. The families shared a social relationship too. So I tried to look for the name (he was my grandfathers friends younger brother) and to my surprise not only did I find it, but it was on the top two floors of the towns tallest building and he name was listed as a founding partner for the firm and the branches that existed the biggest city in our state. I called identified myself to his Secratary and explained what was wanted. Being the loyal employee she was she said Mr. Honeywell still practiced law but didn't usually involve himself in minor legal issues and wanted to send me to another attorney. I asked her politely if she could at least tell him my grandmothers name and see what it meant to him. He may not have seen her for decades but when she returned I was told that he agreed to make any part of the next day available to my grandmother and as much as she needed. We arrived the next day were brought immediately into his office where for an hour or more he and my grandmother shared stories from all those years ago. When it was time to conduct business he requested I wait outside as it was her business. I was in his reception area for about 30 minutes before I was invited back in. Good Byes were said and I remember the last thing he said to my grandmother was he couldn't believe how well she remembered the stories and despite her junior by 15 years thought she had a memory better than his. He never mentioned her business needs and I asked neither my grandmother or Mr. Honeywell as it was there business not mine. About two weeks later I found out when a large envelope his from his office came to her home but addressed to me. The was a several pages of legal documents that I didn't really read at first but read the cover letter. In it he explained how my grandmother had come to him to see how to protect the interests she thought I deserved. He explained that the house was now titled in my name and enclosed was a power of attorney naming me so I could make sure shes stayed with me for as long as I was willing and nobody could interfere. She was there until she passed on her 93rd birthday. I I don't know of any day in my life where someone showed me what they thought of me as a person. I cried then and am crying as I write this. My days as a caregiver continued. A parent cares for the children and its a lifetime job. A person who makes a vow to care for their spouse through sickness and health has made a lifetime commitment. And then there was my brother. He was the next to need me. Poor pain management by a doctor helped lead to Heroin addiction. First he went on Methadone while staying with and eventually weaned himself off of that. early in his sickness he told me of thought to end his life and of his plan that he would check in to a hotel and intentionally overdose. He tried this once but then called his ex-wife who got aid cars there. He came to live with us and one day my wife had to revive him until medics arrived. He went for his fifth stay at the local Psychiatric hospital. The previous 4 resulted in only 4 day stays each. During the fifth I badgered, threatened, pleaded and in anyway possible worked to convince them he needed to stay much longer than four days. They kept him 35 days and he was released to me pending finding appropriate housing he could continue to recover in. We had rules for the interim and he knew if he violated he would be made to leave. 7 days in I came home and he sat proudly wasted sitting my couch while my wife hid in our room. I practiced the tough love I had promised and told him he would have to go. In his condition I thought best to wait until the next day. An hour went by a knock on our room door and it was him saying he was ready. I explained my thoughts but he indicated remorse for his actions and just thought it best he go then. I took him to the motel he requested, the suicide conversation we had shared was a couple years old. The next I heard was 7 days later, I had tried to call but got no answer What I heard will be etched in my brain as long as I lived. The caller identified himself as the Coroners Office. He didn't need to say more because I knew what it was. He asked if this was my brother after a description of the body. I answered yes as best as I could and he told me my brother had been found dead in the room earlier that day. He said more but I couldn't tell you what. BY that time the old discussion had resurfaced and I was dealing with the thoughts that I had delivered him so he could carry them out. Everybody tells me likely I only changed where it happened but I will never know. This is one of the lowest points of my life no matter how I try to think about it. My mother went into isolation after his death those 18 months ago. While for the most part we let her deal with her grief as she wanted sharing occasional phone calls. This continued about 6 months. I received a call from my step niece telling me my mother needed my help. Years ago when my mother treated her mother so poorly I had told myself if this day came this time I would not be involved. But time has a tendency to change things. I had to see if she did need help. I came to her house which was normally kept clean. It had garbage all over and was rat infested. The short term solution (clean and kill rodents) was one I decided I would deal with. Short term meant a couple weeks and after the power was shut off it became evident she wasn't taking care of financial obligations either. When we discussed this she told me she couldn't find her stocks, if they were certificates she didn't know where, if in brokerage accounts she didn't know who. If asked if she had sold some she had no idea. I tracked it all down got her financial affairs in order and then visited 2-3 times a week to ensure her safety. She did not have Grandmothers attitude and finally stated she wished Rick would stop visiting as she feared I was after something. I explained if had wanted the stock she owned now I could have taken it prior to her inheriting it upon her mothers death. Grandmother made me POA though because she trusted me to ensure her wishes were honored and I had known for years she wanted her daughter to have them. So I made sure that's where they went. I understand these thoughts can come with dementia so I am not hurt by them, but as her sole surviving family member I don't think I could live with myself If she was harmed by my lack of care. This brings me to today. A couple of months ago my dad's third wife called and told me my dad had a terminal blood disease. I visit regularily, offer help, and naturally ask about my dad's condition. I was told I would be advised of his appointments and welcomed along. My dad goes to the doctor and relies on her to explain. he is not mentally damaged but my dad has always been about helping others and never burdening them. Today when I asked she went into a tirage indicating she didn't deserve to be treated in such a hostile manner. You may be able to tell from what I have written but hostility has never been a talent of mine. I immediately apologized for any perception she had and that was never my intent. In the past I have given her thanks because when my dad is not in a relationship he does little to help his health and a lot that could be considered harmful. 5 or so years ago she practically bragged to us after my father was hospitalized, that while intoxicated (Dad is now a recovering alcoholic) he had fallen a needed assisistance getting up which she said she could not provide. As the night progressed and Dad began to shiver she did help. She rolled his body in a carpet and left that way for 2 days before she finally called an aid car. My fear is she now confrontational without reason trying to establish a pattern of such in order to argue my visits are upsetting to my father and thus harmful to his health. Dad would never confirm such a statement, though today after she had left I told him if she came back confronting him I wanted him to tell her she was right, he had told me my behavior was indeed unacceptable and was intolerable to him because I want him to deal with pleasant things. I know my dad and know despite my instruction he will tell her to remove her drunken self to another room and he will do that without anger because that is not an emotion he knows or I have ever seen in 57 years. Recently I was diagnosed with depression, caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue. I am now on unpaid medical leave from that same government job I left in 92 but returned in 2010. My immediate supervisor indicated to me yesterday that the management in the office I work has become tired of dealing with my issues and will be not issuing FMLA when my current FMLA request expires. The irony of this is the agency for whom I have given a decade of service to is The Social Security Administration the very agency charged with protecting people who need this kind of help. I know this is a long post and don't know if I wrote solely for therapy, as my mental health professional advises me to do things like this. But if you feel you have a comment, a resource or even just a prayer I will thank you in advance for that. May your lives have at least that one blessed moment like the one my Grandmother gave me


  2. March 19, 2016 at 8:13 pm | Posted by Cristina Flores

    Hi.. I am the only child,, and I am taking care of my mother , she has a benign brain tumor. I really want to take care if her,,I love her,,,but I am exhausted,,I am extremely tired, ,I don't know why but I feel very tired,,,I have been taking care of her for just nine months, not sure why this is happening to me..


  3. January 2, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Posted by helen flanagan

    Hi. I am just looking for an ear. My mother is 91. She had become so verbally abusive to our family. It's as though she is a queen and can rant anytime she c wants and get me to do things on a dime. My two other sisters have no interest in her and say she lives with you. I am 56 hiding in my room and feeling guilty that i don't v like her much anymore. Of course i will always love her. I need someone to talk to. Thx you.


    • January 5, 2016 at 10:10 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      Try to find a support group in your community, Helen. Good places to check in your area would be the Alzheimer's Association or Area Agency on Aging. Local churches or faith communities also often have small groups.Good luck. I will be praying for you!


  4. December 29, 2015 at 2:40 am | Posted by Carol Woke Up

    I have literally fallen down stairs a few times from exhaustion taking care of disabled husband over a 20 yr span. An even bigger regret was misjudging his once a year or so physical abuse to me. I was chalking it up as caused by his morphine. However after health improved the abuse worsened into something almost deadly & in front of the children. Please please take care of you. Don't give up your health, well-being, or dignity. His online spending sprees cost us our house I worked so hard for, and I am trying to put our lives together. He is on his own. I let the disability guilt me and you don't have to.


    • December 29, 2015 at 6:23 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      So sorry to hear about all your difficulties, Carol. Best wishes to you and I hope your new year is happier.


  5. December 28, 2015 at 5:02 pm | Posted by Raven

    Thanks for your sharing your experience.


  6. December 28, 2015 at 1:39 pm | Posted by Linda Noble

    Similar incident except my husband was driving home late one evening after a meeting and at that time was diagnosed with Parkinson's and the early stages of Lewy Body dementia (although we did not realize that at the time) and swerved to miss a deer ending up in a ditch with a wrecked vehicle. It opened my eyes to his inability to drive any more and although he protested loudly when he tried to renew his license a month later I very openly told the clerk I didn't think he should be driving and she then gave him to option to voluntarily forfeit his license or she would deny him one. He reluctantly agreed and signed the form for voluntary forfeit and was very angry at me, but I didn't care, the next accident could have hurt someone and that wasn't going to happen on my watch. Hard to set boundaries sometimes but absolutely necessary.


  7. December 15, 2015 at 1:20 am | Posted by Georgene Lahm

    Fatigue is very real. Be safe!


  8. December 12, 2015 at 12:31 am | Posted by Angela Gross

    I wish she would take the medicine to calm her. All of us caregivers have to take one day at a time. But I know it is going to get harder and sadder. I cry and try to start a brand new day by being stronger and careful when I drive especially when I have lost sleep and am very nervous. I feel I am failing as being the best caregiver I can be. But I do put my heart into being a loving daughter as well.


    • December 15, 2015 at 1:20 am | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      Hang in there, Angela. You are not failing! It is a hard job.Try to get help where you can.


  9. December 12, 2015 at 12:18 am | Posted by Angela Gross

    My mother is getting where she argues she has already taken her medicine when she has not, she thinks I steal her size 2 & 4 clothes, I wear a 12. She gets so worked up if I touch anything when I am trying to help her clean the house, fridge, wash clothes. I try not to get her upset but she gets so worked up then I get in the car to leave so I won't get upset or get her more upset. I have almost wrecked by pulling out in front of cars or dodging deer. Losing sleep the doctor told me if she doesn't take the one med prescibed she would die 6 months to one year. I am the only child she has Alzheimer's and my dad is getting it too and my parents are divorced. My health is deteriating rapidly as well. I don't know if I am coming or going!!!


  10. December 11, 2015 at 10:36 pm | Posted by Angrla

    I can relate to your story. This fall I realized how nervous I am driving for I realize all of the stress causes me to feel like I am in a daze at times. Not a good state to be in when driving.


  11. December 11, 2015 at 4:56 pm | Posted by Herb

    Hi Georgena Lahn. Thanks for sharing your story. I go to Alzheimer's support group every month and they always leave time for me at the end to read one of my poems. So we have caregiving in common, albeit my wife is now in a care home. Still, I know caregiver's fatigue. Glad you survived the deer encounter, and do hope you take good care of yourself. And kudos to understanding hubby there. Cheers.


    • December 15, 2015 at 1:22 am | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      Thank you, Herb! It helps to have support, whether it's from a spouse or a group. I'm glad you found a wonderful support group for you!


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