Home > Aging, Caregivers, Safety > What If the Caregiver Becomes Ill?

What If the Caregiver Becomes Ill?

A few years ago, at a long-term care facility where I was working, a woman was admitted for respite care.  She had advanced Alzheimer’s disease, and had been cared for quite capably by her daughter.  However, the daughter was admitted to the hospital herself, and there was no one else to take over the mother’s care.  Before long, the daughter’s condition worsened to the point that she was in intensive care, on a ventilator.  To make matters worse, the mother became ill and the LTC facility needed someone to make some decisions regarding her care.

I’m sure most readers can see the problem here.  Detailed arrangements had been made, through the proper channels, for this woman to be able to stand in for her mother, legally and medically, if the need arose.  However, when the need DID arise, she herself was incapacitated.  In this case, the matter was eventually resolved after some considerable effort on the part of a very good social services worker.  Another family member was located who was willing to take on the responsibility of making decisions for the mother, and the necessary legal arrangements were completed.  Mother was taken care of, and with time the daughter was able to resume her former role as primary caregiver.

I have a document in place specifying that, if I should ever become incapacitated, my husband is entitled to make medical and legal decisions for me.  He likewise has directed that I am to fulfill the same role for him, should the need ever arise.  But, thanks in part to the above-mentioned incident, we have indicated another person to act as secondary surrogate.  What if he and I are both involved in a car accident, and are both in the position of being unable to make decisions for ourselves?  It’s a step that I have recommended many times to others.

Anyone who acts as primary caregiver for someone who has dementia, or any other condition that prevents them from living independently or without support, should consider making some sort of arrangements such as this.  We never expect to have something happen to us, but we all know that it can at any time.  We never know when we can be taken ill, have an accident, or even just be stranded in a far-away airport by a snowstorm.  We might lose our job and have the bank fore-close on our house.  Or, we might fall prey to a storm such as the one that recently struck the eastern U.S.

As much as we might want to be there to provide everything that our loved one needs, we just can’t do it all alone.  There are times when we are sick in bed with the flu, and just can’t be bothered to cook Mom’s meals or help her to the bathroom.  There are options for the provision of respite care, if a family member or friend is unable to help out.  Most long-term care facilities that I have worked at are happy to take over care for a few days or a few weeks, if needed.  Often there are community agencies that can help out with referrals to a home health agency, a private individual, or some other resource.  Another situation when respite care can come in handy is during vacations.  Or, it may be that a houseful of company is expected for a holiday weekend, and the added commotion may be too upsetting for the person with dementia.

If you do need to make use of respite services, for whatever reason, there are some precautions that should be taken.  Lists should be made of medications that need to be taken, and when.  The person’s daily schedule should be written out, any dietary restrictions, phone numbers for doctors and other care providers, and special care strategies should be provided.  Think back to the kind of instructions you provided when you left your children with a sitter.  In this case, however, the instructions provided should be even more detailed.  If it’s possible to have your respite provider meet your loved one, and spend some time with her, that would be wonderful.

Finally, you should seriously consider the possibility that your loved one may out-live you.  When you make out your will, be sure to include provisions for her care.  Consider it the last thing you can do to show her your love.

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