Dementia caregivers who are juggling careers and care duties will appreciate how director Alex Berg depicted the caregiving experience with empathy and accuracy in his short film, “Ruth.” The film was released in 2022 but is receiving renewed interest due to an Alzheimer’s Association interview with the director that was published this month.
In just 9 minutes, “Ruth” beautifully depicts the frustrations and joy of a mother with dementia and her middle-aged daughter who is trying to balance career demands with caregiving. Berg told the Alzheimer’s Association that his grandfather was an inspiration for the project. The confusion and repetition of questions is something many dementia family caregivers will relate to. The frustration that bubbles over for the daughter is also familiar. “I wanted the daughter-caregiver in the film to be just as central as the mother character, going through personal challenges of her own, ones that don’t go away just because she is a caregiver,” Berg said.
The acting and direction is heartbreakingly beautiful. Family caregivers will finally feel seen after viewing “Ruth.”
Highlighting the challenges that come with caring for a family member in which you have a difficult relationship dynamic is an issue that is important to me. I discuss my own challenges when caring for my mother in my book, The Reluctant Caregiver.
Lori Grinker has created a moving, powerful photo essay, “All the Little Things,” which is about caring for her mother Audrey. The mother and daughter faced a trifecta of challenges: Audrey was already dealing with dementia when she was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Grinker and her mother had always had a strained relationship, but the pandemic delayed a move into an assisted living facility, so mother and daughter lived together for three months. Grinker not only captures images of her mother, but of objects in her mother’s apartment. Those objects sparked memories and discussions that allowed the pair to open up the lines of communication more.
One of the objects that jumped out at me was the worn baking sheet. I remember my mother having a similar favorite baking sheet that she never wanted to discard no matter how discolored it became.
Life isn’t a Hallmark movie, so one shouldn’t expect an “all is forgiven” ending. Grinker told NPR that she and her mother were able to find some love for each other and most importantly, Grinker says she no longer harbors anger for her mother’s actions. She told NPR even if she cannot forgive her mother for some things, she now understands some of her mother’s life choices better.
Another year is in the books. As we look back on 2022, it’s easy to focus on the negative, but I hope you will cut yourself some slack and take time to celebrate what went well this year. Finding those good moments can be difficult when one is in a challenging caregiving situation. One suggestion that I’ve seen online is to get a jar and write on a slip of paper one good thing that happened each week. At the end of the year, the jar will be filled with highlights. If you are more digitally inclined you could keep a spreadsheet or use an app. It’s a simple way to make sure you don’t overlook your achievements.
My biggest achievement in 2022 was publishing my children’s book, Slow Dog. I began the year taking a course on writing for children, where I came up with the idea but waited until the summer to get serious about the project. If I had waited any longer, the book may never have existed as I got laid off from my job just two months after it was published. Timing is everything and sometimes the universe gives you a nudge just when you need it.
I hope 2023 will bring you good health and success in what matters to you.
It has been 11 years since my father died. The weather is similar as it was on that day, a chilly rain, which in turn is typical Irish weather and reminds me of my father’s homeland.
The moment I received the call from my mother that my father was gone is forever embedded in my memory. The death of a parent is one of those world-stopping moments. It’s not something you get over, but the tide of life will continue to push you forward.
Witnessing the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease first-hand in my family prompted me to become an advocate for finding effective treatments and for better support of family caregivers. I join many others in those causes and I’m grateful for the connections I’ve made through the years.
Sharing your dementia caregiving stories is important and I hope you will continue to do so, whether it’s through a blog or other outlet. I know it’s not always easy to share such personal details, but putting a real face on a disease that has long been kept behind closed doors is essential in raising awareness and building public support for better treatments and services.
My father mattered and so do your loved ones. When those difficult anniversaries come, embrace the good memories and use the tough ones to inspire you to push for change.
There have been a series of layoffs in the media world recently and I find myself once again without a job. The last time I joined the ranks of the unemployed was when I quit a new job to take care of my mother when she was diagnosed with colon cancer just six months after my father died. I am fortunate this time around to have received a severance package that will keep me afloat temporarily while I look for new opportunities.
So many people, especially family caregivers, don’t have such a safety net when they face a job loss. I wanted to share some lessons that I learned while I was an unemployed family caregiver and a few resources for family caregivers who find themselves in challenging financial circumstances.
Unemployment is one of life’s most stressful events, and it’s even more so for those who are the primary caregivers for a loved one. Before tackling the financial challenges, make sure you have the emotional support you need. High levels of sustained stress can trigger physical symptoms, so don’t ignore your own health needs during this difficult time.
Reassess your family budget and be prepared to make some difficult cuts. Are there any expenses that could be reduced or eliminated? With many family caregivers already living paycheck to paycheck, this might feel like an exercise in futility. But reviewing your budget is essential as it will help determine what financial assistance programs you may qualify for.
Take a thoughtful approach to your job search. Being unemployed can leave one feeling desperate and willing to take the first job offer that comes along, but that can end up backfiring. Unemployment provides an opportunity to reconsider your work priorities. List your job requirements, which might include a minimum salary level, remote work, flexible schedule, etc. Highlight which are must-haves and refine your job search to meet those requirements. For example, as my mother dealt with health complications that delayed her recovery, I turned to freelance work instead of looking for another full-time job. In that moment, family caregiving took precedent and I didn’t want to begin another full-time job only to have to quit again if my mother had further medical issues. The downside was that I had to utilize my parent’s limited financial resources to help pay my own bills during that period. When my mother became more medically stable, I began my full-time job search in earnest.
It won’t last forever: I spent over a year in what I called “severe underemployment” in which I picked up several low-paying freelance gigs to help pay the bills because I couldn’t find anything better at the time. Finally I found a job through a former colleague that turned out to be an ideal fit and allowed me to work with a fantastic team.
But be prepared for further hiccups: I learned this lesson the hard way: the universe isn’t going to give you a break because you are a caregiver. Home repairs, the car breaking down, or more substantial events like divorce and illness may occur. For example, as I’m still reeling from being laid off last month, I’m having to deal with a pricey veterinary bill because my dog is sick.
Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate. In addition to food, family and football, today is a day to show gratitude.
I’d like to give thanks to all of the caregivers, from family members to those in the care workforce. I’d like to express gratitude especially to those caregivers who feel invisible, unappreciated and overworked. You matter and you deserve more support. There are many people working hard to implement changes to better support caregivers. It’s been an uphill battle and will continue to be so, but caregiver advocates, many of us former or current caregivers, are a tough and dedicated bunch.
Let the caregivers in your life know how much their efforts mean. Thank you to all of those who have supported me on my caregiving journey, from following this blog to buying my books and sending encouraging notes and comments.
This AARP blog post is directed at employers and discusses how supporting their employees who are also family caregivers is not charity, but a smart business practice.
Not only is it a smart business practice, but it’s going to be essential over the coming years. As our population ages, more and more people will become family caregivers. 7 in 10 workers currently have some caregiving duties, according to AARP. One in four is a millennial and a growing number are even younger. Family caregiving is not an “older worker” issue but an issue that any employee can face.
One of the few bright spots in the pandemic was that in certain sectors of the workforce, strides were made in workplace and scheduling flexibility. Employees who are also family caregivers appreciated the difference that flexibility made in their quality of life. Now employers are using their fears of an economic downturn to try and force workers back into a rigid schedule and workplace locations. Some employees are rebelling, but many family caregivers have no choice because caregiving is expensive and not covered by insurance.
When family caregivers reach a breaking point, they end up leaving the workforce. That’s a loss for everyone. Employers who are concerned about having enough staffing can take steps to ensure that they are creating a support environment for family caregivers. It’s common sense that workers who have enough support to manage their family caregiving duties will also be more productive at work and more likely to remain with a company that offers such support. That makes it a win-win for all involved.
Here are some steps employers should consider to support family caregivers:
Offer a flexibile schedule
Offer remote work
Offer caregiver support programs as part of the employee health care package
Paid family leave
Making sure hiring policies don’t discriminate against older workers or those with caregiving duties
One can become a family caregiver in the blink of an eye. As the #CaregivingHappens campaign illustrates, people can face a family care crisis at any moment. One can be going through a routine day, at work or running errands, and receive the call or text that requires one to switch into caregiver mode.
By raising awareness of how many people are family caregivers and how you may encounter them throughout your day, it helps to highlight the resources they need and where there are gaps in support systems. Family caregivers must not remain invisible or taken for granted.
Do you find yourself facing a family caregiving situation for the first time? Check out these 8 Rules for New Caregivers compiled by AARP.
I recently bought a pair of shoes that left me frustrated. The soles were coated in a material that made them extremely slippery, especially on hardwood floors. I purchased them online, and I read the first page of reviews, which were mainly good. But starting on around page three, the warnings about slips and falls because of the slippery soles began. I wish I had researched a bit longer!
Both of my parents suffered from falls as they aged. My father’s dementia made him wander at night, a recipe for disaster. My mother broke her shoulder after falling off the toilet in the middle of the night. Her arm strength and range of motion decreased after that injury. But falls aren’t just a risk for older people. I myself fell at the park last year, slipping down a small slope covered in leaves. I had a sore back for days.
This odd pair of shoes made me think about how important mundane details are when it comes to caregiving, like what kind of shoes are your loved ones wearing? For loved ones who shop online, it’s worth assessing to make sure they are safe for walking on a variety of surfaces. From now on, I will pay closer attention to the soles of shoes!