Over five years ago when we launched the weekly radio show/podcast for family caregivers, Caregiver SOS on Air, one of our first interviews was with Dr. Arthur Kleinman, a professor of psychiatry and anthropology at Harvard University. He was in the middle of caring for his wife with early onset Alzheimer’s disease who had also gone blind. He was completely overwhelmed, and had only recently discovered he could get help caring for his wife in their home. This advice came from one of his students who saw how exhausted and overwhelmed he had become.
We recently had Dr. Kleinman back on the show. His wife has since passed away after 11 years of receiving care, and he has written a book, The Soul of Care: The Moral Education of a Husband and a Doctor. In the book, he says,” I thought I knew it all. A veil of ignorance was raised from my eyes by my experience as a primary family caregiver.” We asked Dr. Kleinman what the first piece of advice he would give other caregivers, and he responded the way almost all of our guests over the years have responded. Don’t wait to get help.
We often ponder why many of us don’t seek help sooner. Some of us see getting help as a sign of weakness. Some are super-hero material who are determined to do it all themselves. Some believe that they are living through a unique experience with no idea that anyone else is a caregiver too – or that help is available. Some of us simply have no idea where to start or what questions to ask.
We don’t want to wait to get help until we are exhausted with unhealthy eating, sleeping and exercising habits. We don’t want to wait until we are so stressed out that we run off our friends and family, and are not a person who anyone receiving care would want to rely upon. We don’t want to miss out on help that would allow us to continue to have a relationship with the person receiving care, because we have become only the caregiver and nothing else. We don’t want to lose ourselves.
Asking for help is healthy and a sign of strength. Asking for help allows us the energy to do other things. There are many different reasons why people need care. There are many different reasons that we become caregivers. There is no reason for us to go it alone.
What’s the first piece of advice caregivers give other caregivers? Don’t wait to get help.
WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director Carol Zernial is a noted gerontologist, radio show host, and emeritus Chair of the National Council on Aging. The non-profit WellMed Charitable Foundation focuses on complimentary programs impacting seniors and family caregivers, including weekly telephone learning sessions, evidence-based classes on stress reduction and more. Find out more at CaregiverSOS.org or toll-free at 1-866-390-6491.