Saturday, October 24, 2009

What's the best advice on caregiving you've received?

I was thinking about caregiving yesterday afternoon after Mama returned from a few days at my aunt's house (her older sister--Mama is 84 and her sister is 89--they're quite a pair!). Mama was sitting at the table working on a project and just full of chatter about the things she'd been doing the last couple of days. I was reminded of the best advice I'd ever received about caregiving, which came from a beloved, long-time friend named Marlene, whose mother lived with her for about ten years. Marlene's mother died a little over a year ago at the ripe old age of 91, but she'd had progressive Alzheimer's for the last few years. The final two years were very difficult as the disease pretty much stole her mom away, but she continued to live with Marlene and her busy family. It was a typical sandwich-generation caregiving situation.

Marlene's main regret after her mom passed away was that on those busy, busy family days, she had not taken the time to listen to her mom's daily chatter about whatever had been on her mom's mind. As happens to many older folks, the conversation becomes very familiar, with stories being told over and over again, sometimes daily, sometimes hourly if they have some sort of dementia. Marlene felt bad that she would become weary of the repeated stories, and would sometimes change the subject so as to move on with whatever was pressing at the moment. She shared with me one day after her mom had died that she wished she had taken the time to let her mom just talk about whatever was on her mind for at least some time each day, even if it was just half an hour or so, and that she would have listened. It wasn't that she had to listen to know the story, since she could recite whatever it was by memory. It was that her mom needed to talk and have someone hear her.

I've thought about that many times since, and as Mama chattered away yesterday, instead of pushing on to do the chores that seemed pressing at the time, I stopped and chatted back. I try to do that every day, just so Mama feels like she matters and her stories matter. I can recite the stories by memory, too, but I've learned that that's not the point. It's the listening and relationship that matter to the person who's wanting to talk.

What is the best caregiving advice someone has shared with you?

Caregiver at Home

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