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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

The limits of taking care of our own

An expert’s advice

In a panel discussion moderated by TVO’s Steve Paikin, Dr. Samir Sinha provides advice to caregivers who are struggling to keep the person they’re looking after out of a long-term care home. Sinha, who is Director of Geriatrics for Mount Sinai Hospital and the University Health Network Hospitals in Toronto as well as Provincial Lead for Ontario’s Seniors Strategy, stresses the need to challenge assumptions. Although he refers specifically to families that come from cultures where “taking care of your own” is an expectation, much of what he says applies regardless of your cultural background.

The clip runs just over two minutes.

Learning to let go after a lifetime together

Quite understandably, learning to let go is a struggle. This very personal story, first posted in our Spotlight on Caregiving section on Jan 25, 2016, explores how one woman came to terms with losing her long-time husband to dementia.

Maureen first met Robert nearly sixty years ago at a party in Toronto. They were introduced by mutual friends, and as Maureen tells it: “The minute we laid eyes on each other, it was like there was no one else in the room.” They ended up talking all night long. “I remember thinking that I had never met anyone like him before. I was so excited.”

Robert was equally smitten, and they soon began dating. The day that he finished his degree, he proposed. They were married in 1961, and raised three children together. “We had a very happy life together,” Maureen says. “He made everything feel like an adventure, even something as mundane as going to the grocery store.” When Robert retired, they fulfilled their life-long dream of traveling abroad. They went to Thailand, traveled through Eastern Europe, and went on a safari in South Africa. “It seemed like everyone else around us was getting older, but somehow we were staying the same age.”

However, around the time that Robert turned 75, time started catching up with them. “Right after that milestone birthday, I began to notice he was behaving strangely,” Maureen recalls. He was suddenly having trouble remembering how to do simple tasks that he had done every day. He couldn’t remember how to turn on the coffee maker, or tie up his shoelaces. At first, they were hopeful that his memory loss was just a common sign of aging. When Robert began imagining things that weren’t there, it became apparent that something more troubling was happening.

Robert’s Alzheimer Disease diagnosis came in 2013, and the dementia began to advance rapidly. Maureen provided around-the-clock care for her husband, but she found the job challenging. “When Robert was getting worse, he was becoming a danger to himself. I had to constantly watch him, and I was always worrying.” She struggled to sleep at night and started suffering from anxiety and depression. As she observes, “No matter how much you love someone, the honest truth is that caregiving for someone with dementia is immensely difficult.” Despite her best efforts to keep a hold of him, Robert was slipping away.

Eventually, Maureen’s children convinced her that Robert’s growing needs would be best met in a long-term care home. “It felt like giving up,” she admits. “But at the same time, I had to come to terms with the fact that my Robert was no longer there. At that point, I wasn’t even getting a glimpse of the happy, spirited man he had been. That man was already gone.”

Her advice for caregivers going through something similar? Make peace with letting go. “I struggled for so long to continue being a good wife to him, but in the end, I kept him home for longer than I should have. It wasn’t safe for either of us.”

Robert passed away in September 2015 at the age of 80. For the first time in 56 years, Maureen finds herself alone. “But I know what Robert would say. He’d tell me to make it an adventure, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

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