‘It’s exhausting, physically and emotionally’: Family talks about struggles as caregivers, new report details many caregivers are battling depression

‘It’s exhausting, physically and emotionally’: Family talks about struggles as caregivers, new report details nearly half of caregivers are battling depression
Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 8:46 PM EDT

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Anyone who is a caregiver will tell you how tough it is, but a new report details how hard it may be to help others.

Noelle Esquire’s dad, Robert, started showing signs of dementia about five years ago, but she and her family thought it was just part of her dad getting older.

“He was in his 80s. So, you kind of just associate that with, like normal aging when people have, you know, some memory challenges. So, I don’t think we were acutely aware of there was anything going on,” Noelle said.

But as her dad’s cognitive health started to decline, she decided to move back home to Wilmington from New York and help her mom, who became a full-time caregiver. A job that isn’t easy.

“It’s exhausting, like, physically and emotionally,” Noelle said. “You kind of feel helpless in a lot of ways. And that, there is this whole kind of like, the ongoing grieving process, because you’re grieving this person who is different than they were previously and as you knew them when they were younger, but they’re also still alive. I think the technical term is ambiguous loss. And, you know, I come from a family of fixers, so we kind of went into this thinking about, like, how can we just make that better, or lessen the progression and what you learn over time is that there’s nothing you can really do except make him comfortable and accept things where they are and learn how to respond to where things are.”

Noelle said thankfully she works from home and tries to help her parents a few days a week, but it’s become more difficult recently.

“I’m incredibly grateful that I can work from home, and I can spend this time with him in his later years in life, and I can be there to support my mom. But it also, you know, takes a toll,” Noelle said. “I think in general, it worked for a while when his symptoms were more mild. But as things have progressed, it just gets harder, because he doesn’t have as much strength, you know, to walk himself to the bathroom even. I’m a little bit worried about like, ‘oh, is he going to try to get up from his chair and like, will he fall?’ And so I think that added stress ended up not being sustainable, long term.”

As her dad’s health takes a toll on the rest of the family, a new report shows about 41% of caregivers in North Carolina are experiencing depression.

“It’s a big change when your loved one has a 180 and personality or can’t do the same daily tasks, like bathing or brushing your teeth, that they could before,” Brooke Vallely, with the Alzheimer’s Association, said. “You may feel separated from your family, your friends, your neighbors, your job, your faith circle.”

The report also shows an increase in the number of Americans 65 years of age and older living with Alzheimer’s.

“It is now 6.7 million Americans, which is devastating. We have over 11 million people that identify as unpaid caregivers. Also, a big number that stands out is the cost to the nation, we’re talking $1.3 billion and Medicaid that we’re spending in North Carolina alone,” Vallely said.

Vallely knows what caregivers are going through and said the organization is working to educate caregivers, like the Esquire’s, on the importance of self-care.

“I think that isolation and needing to remember that they have to take care of themselves in order to be the best caregiver they can.”

Noelle took a course with the organization to help her better take care of her dad alongside her mom who already has a background in nursing. But Noelle said caregiving goes beyond that.

“I think one of the ways that we’ve really benefited from the work that the Alzheimer’s Association, offer a course called savvy caregiver. And each week, they take you through different aspects of caregiving, and what can make you a stronger caregiver. And a lot of it is focused on self-care and making sure that you also take care of yourself. Because if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not in as good of a position to take care of your loved one. So, there’s a big emphasis on self-care, and all the different ways that you can, you know, make sure that you’re taking care of yourself physically, as well as like mentally and emotionally. There’s [also] a big emphasis on asking for help, and not being afraid to ask for help,” Noelle said. “It really just left us feeling more empowered to, to take this on, and then also give it gave me, and I think also my mom a sense of community to know that like, we’re not going through this alone.”

Noelle knows caregiving isn’t easy for anyone. Many people have to leave their jobs and give up free time to be a caregiver, but she says she’s lucky that she and her mom are both in a position to help her dad.

“I think he doesn’t really understand what he is experiencing, like going through this cognitive decline. So, I think that that makes it easier, in some ways, because he is still his happy-go-lucky self. And he isn’t stressed about the fact that his brain doesn’t work the way that it used to,” Noelle said. “While it’s really upsetting to see that, you know, that he can’t think and communicate the way that he used to be able to, you know, not everyone gets to be 86 years old. And so, if it wasn’t going to be this, it would probably be something else. And you know, I’m really grateful that he’s not suffering. Like, like many people do later in life.”

Noelle says her family is also utilizing hospice care services from Lower Cape Fear LifeCare.

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