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November is the Month to Honor Family Caregivers

By Sally Rouses, RN

November marks Family Caregiver month when we recognize 53 million Americans who are providing care for relatives and friends. For some people, caregiving occurs gradually over time, and for others, it can happen overnight. We recently had an opportunity to chat with a wonderful full-time caregiver, Kellye Franklin, whose father now lives with her so that she can better care for his daily needs.

What were the circumstances that led to your becoming the sole caregiver of your dad?

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Although I grew up in a household of four generations, my family was still small. My dad raised me and we have always been close. Naturally, when he needed someone to care for him, I wanted to help him. At the time that I noticed my dad’s memory struggles, I was getting my Master of Social Work in DC. At first, the doctors thought that he had mild cognitive impairment, if any at all. After a pacemaker episode put him in the hospital though, I noticed during our visits and FaceTime calls that his habits were changing. His confusion was rapidly getting worse. So, I flew back to the west coast, found a disability-friendly house for us, and put my degree and life on hold. 

 

I knew he had dementia but having him diagnosed accurately was difficult. In fact, after years of living apart, living together again was a big adjustment too. Though we were close, in many ways we had to get to know each other again and we had to learn to live well with dementia.  There was one program specifically for people with dementia, OPICA, that offered a therapeutic adult day program which helped my dad. The socializing and stimulating environment really helped him improve to the point that, he not only became a sort of peer support for other families he befriended at the center, he also grew to be an artist because of the programming. His art is what you see on this page.

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What do you do to take care of yourself?

In my first year as a caregiver, I was losing a lot of sleep because my dad was getting up in the middle of the night. I was afraid that he would fall and injure himself. Luckily, the USC Family Caregiver Support Center recommended that I enter the study offered by People Power. I can’t say enough about how helpful it was to have the Presence Care system (currently known as People Power Caregiver) let me know what my father was doing. Prior to the app, I was literally jumping out of bed every time I heard a noise, every 30 minutes. It gave me back my sanity and my peace of mind.

You see, the caregiver role is all-consuming because it is physical, emotional, legal, financial, and more. You can quickly lose yourself and what made you, you. When I hit an emotional wall, my dad’s doctor suggested invaluable resources like the UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center. Their resiliency training program helped us strengthen the way we work as a family—we needed better boundaries, communication, and individual life satisfaction. Now, dad and I accommodate each other’s needs better. I can even carve out space for my hobbies and career goals.

 

What advice would you give a new caregiver who is just taking on this role? 

You cannot take care of someone else if you do not take care of yourself. It is about doing your best, then embracing your humanness. The situation can change constantly. There will be mistakes. Forgive yourself. You can’t afford to waste emotional energy on guilt. Also, if you are not authentic about the what, if, and how you provide care to your loved one(s), you can both suffer. Start from a very honest place about what your desires, limits, strengths, and abilities are in relation to the caregiver role. There are always ways to improve the caregiving experience for both of you—if you stay true to your needs and are dedicated to theirs.

 

Thank you, Kellye Franklin, for sharing your experience as a family caregiver!

 

People Power is grateful to all Family Caregivers across the nation for supporting and caring for their loved ones in their own homes. We thank you and honor you always!