Question from Stressed OUT!: I've lost 30 pounds caring for my mom. My hair is falling out and I fear I might lose my job. How can I manage the care and not be so stressed out all the time?
Amy: If only I had lost 30 pounds instead of gaining it! HA! Seriously, though, over the past year and a half I can share that I've gained 20 pounds and my hair has been falling out, too. It is a BIG wake-up call — pay attention! Your body is telling you that you need to take care of yourself ... or you won't be able to take care of your mom. Stop and make a plan for things that nurture you and rebuild your strength. You are giving so much, you need to fill back up again.
Elinor: And remember, you really can't do this all by yourself. One way to ask for some help is to get some friends together to share a meal. Make it a regular occasion, and tell them it's their job to make sure you eat a full meal each time you're together. You might even ask them to stock your shelves with food that's good for you and fun to eat. Here's a link to some tips for managing stress — hang in there.
Amy: And remember, there are caregiver support groups across the nation that can be real lifesavers. Contact your local area agency on aging (go to eldercare.gov to find yours) and ask about support groups.
Question from Debra: I make $85,000 a year but care for my dad full time. How can I get assistance? I'm going broke and break down crying when I get his bills. How come our legislators don't care about us?
Elinor: Debra, here's a link to some information about financial and legal resources. And remember, your community might have services available for low or no cost for your dad. To find out what he's eligible for, visit aarp.org/quicklink.
Comment from Regina, Rosemont, Ill.: You can receive FMLA job protection as caregiver for a parent, correct?
Elinor: Yes! FMLA stands for Family Medical Leave Act, and your parents are your family.
Amy: Check with your employer's human resources office to see how FMLA works.
Question from Sam: When we're out shopping or at a restaurant, people can be very rude if my dad is too slow to order and that type of thing. It makes me very frustrated (and saps my energy). How can I stay calm in those situations?
Amy: This can be so frustrating — how can people be so rude? When this happens, it's sometimes helpful to be direct and say that your father needs a little extra time. If you're comfortable, just say, "My father has dementia and we'll need extra time." Period. People will often feel badly that they were being impatient and you'll get more compassion. Even if you don't feel comfortable saying your father has dementia or Alzheimer's, you can still just explain that you need that person's help — enlist them — in supporting your father as he needs more time.
Comment from Cheryl, Colo.: Let them know when you sit down you would like extra time before ordering.
Question from Pat: I take care of my 94-year-old dad, who is in a wheelchair. He is hard of hearing, terrible memory. I work all day and then come home and take care of him. When I talk to him I have to yell and then he gets mad because I'm yelling at him. We can't have a conversation. Every five minutes it's Groundhog Day over and over. Is there any help anywhere?
Amy: Pat, it sounds exhausting! One thing to try might be adult day services. Your dad could be at the program during the day and then when he comes home and you come home from work, he will have had interaction during the day. Most times, people who attend adult day services are ready for quieter time and sleep in the evenings. He'd get social interaction with people who are trained to work with those who are hard of hearing or have dementia.
Elinor: And you need to find some time that is just for you. Even if you find a great adult day center for him, it sounds like your life is all about work and caregiving. Believe it or not, finding time for you to do something you want to do will make it easier for you to handle the frustrations of your dad's condition.
Amy: You can find an adult day services center by contacting your area agency on aging (eldercare.gov) or in the phone book. And you might also want to look at having a volunteer visit in the evenings — a third party might ease the tension some as well.