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Natural Awakenings South Jersey

The Accidental Caregiver

The past eight months have taken me on a journey I would not have picked from a travel brochure. Realizing that my 91-year-old mother was no longer her usual spry self during a weeklong visit, I knew it was time to stay nearer and help in any way I can. We’d been glad that she had generally been fairly independent, driving to meet friends and see her doctors. Still, it became clear that I needed to commit more supportive time and energy and help her figure out why her health had been on a downslide. Many doctors’ visits and myriad tests finally revealed a faulty heart valve and we discussed the best next steps.

Her cardiologist, surgeon and general practitioner felt she had a strong heart for her age. For many decades this active woman had mastered many sports, developing a strong constitution along the way. Her lifelong conditioning had reinforced the heart muscle, though not the valve. She finally decided on treatment using a relatively new catheter procedure to replace the valve that is far less invasive than open-heart surgery. Still, it came with weeks of physical therapy, medications, rehabilitation and rest.

It’s all taken us both down a hard and bumpy road that was unexpectedly compounded when we discovered that anesthesia can have a lingering effect on the mental acuity of older patients; thank goodness her memory and cognitive capabilities have been returning to her previous levels, however slowly. The light at the end of the tunnel is tiny but at least there is light. As my mother would say, “Don’t put me off on a raft yet!”

This year I have learned firsthand what it’s like to become an accidental caregiver and understand, more than ever before, how important it is for me to actively support my own health and well-being. In family caregiving situations most people tend to prioritize the needs of the person receiving the care over themselves and this month’s article, “Conscious Caregiving: Nurture Yourself While Helping Another,” by Deborah Shouse, explains how vital it is to nurture yourself so that you are equipped to help others.

I discovered that the hardest part may be simply asking for help. Millions of Americans are experiencing caregiving scenarios echoing my family’s situation, which has prompted the development of many support groups ready to respond to our requests for helpful information and assistance. We are not alone.

In light and love,

Don Moore, Publisher

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