By Kuntal Joisher
Growing up not too far from the Himalayas, climbing Everest has always been a dream of mine. But, it wasn’t until five years ago that I decided to pursue the challenge and begin training for the journey of a lifetime. As expected, the physical training has been anything but easy. However, the emotional toll I have taken during this time often feels infinitely harder than climbing any mountain peak.
Almost seven years ago, I left my newfound home of Los Angeles to move back to Mumbai to become a full-time caregiver for my father, who was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia in 2001 at the young age of 50. Since his diagnosis, my dad’s condition has deteriorated, and it’s to a point where he doesn’t even remember or recognize me.
But, I try to maintain a positive outlook. I like to think that there was a time when my dad took care of me as a small child and, now, I’ve been presented with this unique opportunity to repay his love in the exact same way. My dad is completely dependent upon my very supportive wife and I. Our days are dedicated to his care. We wake him up in the morning, bathe his body, change his diapers, feed him meals, sing him familiar songs, show affection, and finally put him to bed at night. Everything that he did for me as a child, I now do for him.
And, as much as it pains me to see him so weak, I am grateful that I have the resources to provide such a high quality of life for my family member. But, unfortunately, not everyone with a diagnosed loved one can do the same. My hometown, Mumbai, the most populous country on the planet with a population of 20 million, barely has any Alzheimer’s or dementia day care centers.
It’s been a very emotional challenge over the past few years to see him worsen by the day. Unfortunately, dementia, like its neurocognitive cousin Alzheimer’s, is a disease without a cure and very little prevention. An estimated 16 million Americans will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s by 2050 – a disease that experts say is the most costly disease in America, topping $200 billion for those who need care, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
That’s why I am climbing Everest. My journey can be used as a platform to raise awareness not only for much needed research, but also for the family caregivers, like my wife and I, who spend every day learning more about the disease and its implications with every bath, feeding, and gentle reminder of who we are.
I don’t like to think of my experience caring for my father as overcoming an obstacle, for we can never conquer mountains. Instead, it’s an opportunity for humbling personal growth. Sir Edmund Hillary once said, “It’s not the mountain we conquer – but ourselves.”
Follow my Mt. Everest 2014 climb at my sponsor, CallFire’s, FUEL Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CallFireFUEL. I’ll be sending updates from the mountain throughout my journey. Wish me luck!
- Podcast: Dementia Care Talk Show (caregiving.com)
- Resources for Managing Dementia’s Difficult Behaviors (caregiving.com)
- Podcast: Financial Resilience (caregiving.com)