Doris is a vibrant 67-year-old retiree living in Boca Raton, Florida. She has spent the last five years caring for her husband Dan as he slowly succumbed to brain cancer. Dan had a good job in the corporate world so she can live comfortably on his pension and her Social Security. All Doris wants to do is go to Zumba class twice a week with her friends, have her ballroom dancing lesson once a week with that handsome teacher Ryan and go to yoga class followed by lunch once a week with her neighbor Irene. Doris is mother to Caroline and grandmother to Chelsea; an active 7 year old little girl. Doris has certainly earned this leisurely retirement schedule but slowly her days have become frantic, stressful and overwhelming. It didn’t happen overnight but things just needed to be taken care of and it seemed she was the only one who could take care of them. It was all supposed to be temporary but these temporary fixes have turned into chronic demands that are now affecting her mental, physical and emotional health.
Doris’ mother, Ada May, is 86 years old and generally in good health except four years ago she started experiencing symptoms associated with the early stages of dementia. Just as Doris’ husband died her mother started to require more care. At first it was just shopping and getting her to her doctors’ appointments. Ada May can’t drive anymore, even though she wants to, as the last time she drove she backed into a parked car. She’s also backed into a few mailboxes and turned in front of an oncoming motorcycle. Now Doris is over there every day to make sure her mother takes her medication, gets out of bed and eats a proper meal. She is considering moving her into her own home but Caroline and Chelsea have been living there since Caroline’s divorce, after she lost her job. She works night’s waitressing at a local restaurant and goes to nursing school during the day. The house is too chaotic for Ada May and she does not want to move in with her daughter anyway. Recently she’s become more agitated and difficult. She doesn’t sleep at night and has started to wander around the house. Doris is afraid she will end up going outside or falling down during one of these nighttime episodes.
Doris is now starting to spend nights at her mother’s house. She sleeps for no more than 3 hours, and not in a row. She gets up when her mother gets up and sleeps when her mother sleeps. She hasn’t been to Zumba in three months and she feels tired, listless, overwhelmed and depressed. She does not want to put her mother in a nursing home nor can she afford a good one. She can’t take much more of this schedule. When she gets home, her granddaughter - who has a healthy set of lungs - is always there and wants to be entertained. Doris feels guilty when she ignores her sweet granddaughter, she feels guilty when she gets irritated with her mother, and she feels guilty about the possibility of putting her in a nursing home. This cumulative guilt is adding to her depression and exhaustion.
Unfortunately this type of scenario is becoming more common. Women are the caretakers in the family and when the family is under stress they tend to take on the extra load. The problem is if you don’t take care of yourself you won’t be able to take care of the ones you love for very long. A problem can look overwhelming if you view it all at once so break it down into smaller parts. The first thing is to take care of yourself. Doris needs to go to Zumba as much as she wants to. Exercise has well documented positive effects on our health. She would benefit from getting in-home healthcare help. She doesn’t have the money to pay for a high-end nursing home but she can afford to get her mother a caregiver or certified nurse assistance in the convenience of her own home. In speaking with a Nurse Registry, she found out that they can work in shifts so someone is there when Ada May gets up in the night. She can relax on visits with her mother now as someone else is doing the stressful stuff. She has more time and energy to go to her dance classes and play hide-and-seek with her granddaughter. There are no easy answers or a one-size-fits-all solution, but there is help. Just remember you don’t have to juggle it all by yourself. Help is available and you deserve it.