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Responsibility and Compassion Learned Early

The hard, emotional evolution of a daughter’s caregiving role

Caregiver Kristin Davie poses with her brother and parents

Courtesy of Kristin Davie

Millennial caregiver Kristin Davie (right) with her father, brother and mother, who has early onset Alzheimer's disease

En español | In 2011, Kristin Davie, 31, a publicist, moved to her family home in Colonia, N.J., to take care of her mother Diane, now 67, who has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Before that, her brother Scott, who’s five years older, had been staying with their parents. 

After graduating from college in 2009, I was living and working in New York City. My parents were living in New Jersey and as my mother’s Alzheimer’s started to progress, it became clear that they needed help because we’d had to take the keys away from her. My brother Scott, who’s five years older, had been staying with our parents from 2009 to 2011 but once he started a new job and moved in with his girlfriend, he needed to take a step back. So in the summer of 2011, I moved home to care for my mom, even though this meant an 80-minute commute door-to-door to and from work, twice a day.

I’d go food shopping, take her to doctors’ appointments, run whatever errands needed to be done and cook dinner. My father was always the primary caregiver; he was waking up with a different version of his wife every day — he is heartbroken. It was more like I was her buddy driving her from place to place. I took over watching my mother on Wednesdays so my father could work. I would get up, have breakfast with her, bathe her and help her get dressed, blow-dry her hair and have her sit with me while I was doing work from home. As things progressed, I couldn’t bring her with me to go shopping; it was more efficient for me to leave my mother with my father and run the errands on my own.

In 2013, I moved to Hoboken, N.J., to be closer to work and cut down on my commute. I moved out for my own sanity, and I struggled with the guilt. But I knew I needed to be in a different place to start my life and career. I used to get panic attacks and severe migraines from the stress. My father gave me his blessing and we hired a home health aide. But the guilt is still in the back of my mind, especially because her disease took a turn for the worse.

I continued to go to home once or twice a week to help my mother, handle doctors’ appointments and make sure she had what she needed — all while trying to stay on top of my work, date and have a life of my own. My brother and I took care of coordinating with eldercare lawyers, handling the finances, addressing her health-care needs and buying supplies for her. It still got to be too much for all of us.

Two weeks before Mother’s Day this year, we moved her into a memory clinic. My brother and I did the research and negotiating for the housing arrangement. In terms of actually getting her into the clinic, we tag-teamed — he bought a new bed for her; I bought her linens, toiletries, and new clothes. Every piece of clothing has to be labeled. She now lives in a studio apartment in a memory care unit in an assisted senior living community and goes downstairs for activities, exercises, and meals.

Now, my caregiving is mostly financial which has been a huge learning curve for me. My mom used to run the household so I set up direct deposit systems. We’re paying out of pocket right now for her care. Eventually, she will probably need to go to a nursing home. I’m working with an eldercare law firm to downsize the family home and sell assets. My brother and I try to do as much as we can to help our father so he has us to lean on. 

I try to go visit her once a week. I never really know what I’m going to get when I arrive: She recognizes that I’m a friendly face but I don’t think she knows that I’m her daughter anymore. That’s hard. A few months ago, I started seeing a therapist every other week. I was trying to keep it all together but then the threads started coming out. My boyfriend was the one to tell me to do that, and it’s been a lifesaver. It’s been months since the stress has affected me physically but I still miss my mother every single day.

—as told to Stacey Colino

The Surprising Upside

“I wouldn’t wish this disease on my worst enemy but if there has to be a silver lining to it, it’s that this disease helped instill responsibility and compassion in me and made me grow up more quickly. And it gave me appreciation, particularly for my parents, for how much they did for me and how precious the relationship is.” 

— Kristin Davie

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