Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas Into Discoveries – Caring for Family Caregivers

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Caregiver who feels trapped and unsupported needs help and ‘me time’

Q. I’m 61, just had bypass surgery and am doing amazingly well. My whole life has been spent taking care of my parents, who are now deceased.  My husband, who was always healthy, now has Parkinson’s. He can still get around, but has difficulty with his speech, and his walking is a bit labored. I get no support from my husband’s family and just a bit from my side. I’m limited to having someone from an agency come talk to me because my husband is always around and refuses to go out without me. I feel trapped. He has no real friends to speak of, so I thought an adult day program might be good, but he refuses that too. We usually go to Florida this time of year, but because of my surgery I may not get travel insurance. I can drive at the end of this month though. Any suggestions? I feel hopeless.

Carol, Calgary


A. Whoa, there’s a whole lot going on here. The first thing you need to address is you. Your physical and psychological well-being need to be looked after or you won’t be any good to anyone, including yourself.

Dr. Gloria Gutman, a B.C.-based scholar and international authority on gerontology, suggests you carve out some non-negotiable, weekly “me time”, whether it’s getting your hair done, having coffee with friends or whatever. “All of us, regardless of how much we love our husbands and/or how healthy or unhealthy they are, must have a little space of our own,” she says.

You don’t say how old your husband is, when he was diagnosed, or how long he’s been retired. Trying to fill in the blanks, Dr. Gutman wonders if he may have lost his social network. “Working isn’t just about the paycheck, it’s also the social things associated with it,” she points out. She also wonders if this is a fairly new situation and maybe the two of you haven’t yet adjusted.

If your husband isn’t ready for adult day care, since that tends to be for people who are quite frail, then perhaps getting involved in some activity at a senior’s centre would be more suitable. And when you can drive, get in that car and drive to the mall and walk. Have your husband walk.

“Get him out with people,” says Dr. Gutman. “Take him to the movies.” The goal is to get him – and you – re-engaged with life. “You both need to reconnect with enjoyable, familiar activities.”

Regardless of what activities you choose, Dr. Gutman strongly advises you both to get in touch with the nearest branch of Parkinson Society Canada to see what kind of support programs are available in your area. “You both need someone to talk to,” she says, “and not necessarily the same person.”

Finally, you need to push your families to get involved and to help. “If they hesitate then you must stamp your feet and be assertive. This is self preservation,” insists Dr. Gutman. “Make them feel guilty if you must. Do what you have to.”

Send Diane a brief description of your dilemma, along with your first name and where you live, to [email protected]

A professional journalist for more than 25 years, Diane Sewell has written for some of the top newspapers and magazines in Canada and is a baby boomer herself. Her new blog “Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas into Discoveries” is interactive with readers and focuses on life issues – like aging, dating, second marriages, sex, death, family and fashion. Diane will use her expertise to find the right expert to help solve your predicament, unearthing kernels of truth and quickly getting to the heart of the issue.