Saints Among Us

June 17, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 6.26.27 AMSometimes we think of saints as historic personalities imbued with traits and inspired by situations that simply do not exist today.

But if you were to see how caregivers – both unpaid friends and family, as well as paid “professionals” – care for their charges who often suffer with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, you would have to think otherwise.

Part of what we do as a home care agency based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is interview caregivers.   The more we interview, the better our ability to have the “ideal” caregiver for any client.  Home care in North Carolina is non-medical.  So while technical skills (such as helping someone bathe safely) are important, personality traits, such as compassion, patience and kindness may be even more important.  When we are not interviewing caregivers, we meet families where some family member is caring for a spouse, mom or dad.

Personally, I am convinced that from time to time, I meet a saint.

A new book by Judith London, a psychologist based in California, “Support for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers: The Unsung Heroes,” documents the stories of many such individuals.

Dr. London has an earlier book, “Connecting the Dots: Breakthroughs in Communication as Alzheimer’s Advances”.

Her works offer insights into the care process.  She highlights challenging situations experienced by various caregivers and offers possible solutions for similar circumstances.

Even for paid caregivers, caring for the dementia sufferer is an act of love.  We worry about the stress on these individuals as much as we worry about the care the dementia sufferer is receiving.

Research by Stanford University indicates that there are more than 15 million people unpaid caregivers in the US today, attending to the needs of loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. The strain caused by the challenge of the job increases the risk of many illnesses, as well as death.

So much attention is on the needs of the sufferers.  Yet, the caregiver is often a hidden victim of Alzheimer’s.

Few people appreciate sacrifices the caregiver makes.  It’s critical that they care for themselves with proper exercise, nutrition and rest.  Keep this in mind the next time a coworker tells you about their struggles caring for Dad.  You may be in the presence of a saint.

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