Take Charge! of Caregiver Mental Health
by Ken Garfield
Caregivers learned an important lesson at the June 6, 2023 Take Charge! session. Just as those dealing with memory and movement disorders deserve to be calm, clean, safe and loved, so do their caregivers. Fear and grief come with the job. To ease the caregiver’s burden, so should those four cornerstones.
More than twenty-five members of the Memory & Movement Charlotte family gathered in person and over Zoom to share how best to meet the challenges of caregiving. Physician Assistant Robyn Wolkofsky, Registered Nurse Shelly Sedory and Family Education and Support Coordinator Katie Cooper shared emotions and questions common to the experience of life after a loved one’s diagnosis:
“I can’t bear the thought of losing my independence. I’m just so scared. Where do I go from here?”
They also shared answers found within these four bedrock aspirations.
- CALM. Patients deserve to be as free from stress as possible. So do their caregivers. Losing sleep? Losing your appetite? Depressed? Reach out to a counselor or confidant. Practice meditation. Take a walk.
- CLEAN. This goes beyond hygiene. It means taking care of your whole self. See your doctor, dentist, optometrist and other health care provider as needed. Exercise. Eat right. Put on nice clothes each morning because it makes you feel better.
- SAFE. Is it safe to be a passenger with your loved one behind the wheel? Is it safe to have unsecured guns within reach? Is it time for you to manage the household finances? These are questions for caregivers to ask themselves. In matters of safety, a little fear is a good thing.
- LOVED. Navigating this journey is easier when patient and caregiver can count on love keeping them together. If that bond is unbreakable before a diagnosis, it has a better chance of surviving whatever comes next.
A personal note: This Take Charge! conversation struck a personal note. My wife, Sharon, helped oversee care for her brother, Bristol, during his struggle with Parkinson ‘s disease. I saw the time, energy and emotion she poured into filling his final years with comfort and some measure of peace. I felt the toll it took on her physically and emotionally. As a writer, Bristol’s death at age 70 moves me to tell the caregiver’s story, one of grace and courage.
At the end of the Take Charge! hour, Robyn, Shelly and Katie encouraged caregivers to find an outlet for their fear and grief. Seek out a professional. Call a friend. Cry if you must. Take cleansing breaths. Walk away from a difficult moment to clear your head. Keep a journal. Talk to the dog during your daily walk. Watch old sitcoms. Laugh. Put on a Sinatra record and waltz away the afternoon in the living room with your loved one. Join a support group. Reach out to your primary care physician with health concerns. As always, as needed, reach out to Memory & Movement Charlotte.
At the end of another day, know that this is hard. Learn to forgive your feelings. As Shelly said, “It takes a lot of grace to be human.”
Freelance writer/editor Ken Garfield of Charlotte, N.C., is a friend of Memory & Movement Charlotte. He edited Dr. Edwards’ first book, “Much Abides: A Survival Guide for Aging Lives.”