Care-giver not Care-taker

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Care-giver not Care-taker

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When my auntie was still in her own home, she stopped moving. She didn't make her own meals. She didn't clean. She didn't pull a weed or water a flower. In fact, she didn't even go out in her beautiful yard anymore. And though her garbage can was just outside her door, she stopped emptying her garbage too. I'm not entirely sure why all this happened. She was in her 80's, and she probably had early Alzheimers Disease. And she had a few minor but embarrassing falls and became fearful of falling again. What she did do was simple; she got dressed, went to the bathroom, and to the front door in her small house to get the mail. That was it. Otherwise, she was sitting on the end of the sofa with a book. Of course, this is the aunt who had been vibrant, who DID love to read, and still held great conversations. Visiting every week or so, none of us noticed the change until the garbage was piling up on the counter. We slowly began to see what was happening. When her knees hurt so badly that it was hard to walk, I accompanied her to the doctor. He took one look at her and said, "Your knees are bent like that because they're stuck in a sitting position." My aunt couldn't straighten her legs out! Then he educated her--and me. And I've never forgotten what he said.

He said that all of us take for granted what movement and exercise we get daily--just from simple tasks. When we empty the garbage, we lift the bin, tie the garbage bag, and pull it from the bin then we carry it down a few stairs, lift the somewhat heavy city garbage lid with one hand, and lift the bag of garbage to shoulder height and drop it in. Then we go back up the stairs, get a garbage liner, use fine motor skills to separate those darned things, shake the liner out, put it in the bin, then put back to its place in the kitchen. That's a lot of movement for just one task. He said that as we get older, and things get harder, instead of figuring out a way that we CAN do a task, we stop doing it or pay someone else to do it. Unfortunately, by then, my auntie had decided things for herself, and she simply didn't want to do anything anymore; she had meals on wheels delivered to her on the sofa daily; she had a housekeeper who came in and vacuumed and dusted; she had someone to mow the lawn; and eventually she had caregivers who did everything else. She was not swayed by this conversation with her doctor. She even refused physical therapy, which would have helped her so much. She's a bit stubborn, I have to say!

Fast forward a few years. My mother moved in with me about a year ago. And from the get-go, I decided to be a careGIVER, not a careTAKER. In other words, if my mom CAN do it herself--even if it takes longer or she does it in a different way than I do--I let her do it. My mom is in congestive heart failure. She is legally blind and hearing impaired. Even with all of that, if I let myself step back, she WILL do things or at least try. But I do feel the glares sometimes when we are in public and, for example, I don't open or shut the car door for her. But imagine that motion that she's doing. It's great for her! It's not just about exercise and keeping joints well-oiled, it's also about having some independence from me. She uses a walker when we are outside the house. When she first moved in, I would often leave it at home and let her hold onto my arm. But then I realized, she was leaning into me, which was actually hurting my shoulder day after day. So, I insisted on bringing the walker. She's much more independent this way. She doesn't have to be glued to me. If we're at the store, and I see an item, we both don't have to make our way to it. I can just grab it. And her posture is so much better with the walker than it is when she's holding my arm. We still use the arm method if we're just popping in somewhere to eat, but I really do think she enjoys the independence she has attained now.

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