The following post is from our contributing writer, Bill Mishico, who also happens to be my Dad, a retired teacher and current caregiver to my Nana. Today he offers his thoughts on some of the challenges and difficulties of being a caregiver.
“Caregiver is an interesting word to describe a complex concept. Care refers to the concern or affection one has toward an individual and at the same time suggests a course of action for looking after, nurturing or supervising them. The giver part is more difficult to define. In some instances it is a member of the immediate or the extended family, but in recent years it has more often become the responsibility of a home care service provider.
Seven years ago my wife and I became a caregivers for my aging mother-in-law who at the time was 87. I didn’t know I was a caregiver. I thought I was just “helping out”. After living in her home for sixty-five years, the last nine years alone, we moved my mother-in-law to a retirement community near us so that she could maintain her independence, have family nearby and we could visit her more often. Gradually as time passed it became evident that she was becoming more dependent upon me to assist her with everyday tasks. Being a proud and independent woman she was having a difficult time asking for and receiving help. This was my first test as a caregiver. How do I walk that fine line between offering my help and her maintaining her dignity and sense of independence? I found that patience, a quality that I hadn’t possessed much in my earlier years, proved extremely helpful. I learned to walk slower and to move at her speed. Allow her time to do the things that she could do at a pace that was comfortable for her. I learned to read body language and really observe her behaviors. From observing her reaction to others I learned not to take over tasks unless she asked for assistance. To give you an idea how important independence and dignity are to an aging person, in the last year that she was driving my mother in law would drive herself to church on Sunday. Upon arriving and parking her car she would begin the trek (and to her it was an expedition) toward the chapel. Inevitably people would see her, and being kind and considerate they would take her arm and help her across the parking lot to her seat. They saw this as being helpful. She stopped going to church because “people were treating her like an old lady that couldn’t help herself”. Her sense of dignity and independence had been challenged. Providing care for an aging person takes as much tact and compassion as it does effort.”