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Questions & Answers - August 2002

Mary C. Fridley, RN,C is a registered nurse certified in gerontology with more than twenty years in the geriatric health field. She is the owner of Gero-Resources specializing in caregiver, eldercare, and successful aging education and advocacy. Mary is also an author of two caregiver advice columns and contributes articles to various websites. She is available for speaking engagements and would be happy to answer your questions or concerns while maintaining your anonymity.

About Mary
Mary's Column Archives: Caregivers'
Questions & Answers

Dear Mary,

A while ago you asked caregivers to write and tell you how they really feel. Well, here it is. I hate it! Even though my mother is in a nursing home, I am still her primary caregiver, decision maker, Power of Attorney, and savior. She depends on me to help her, entertain her, and be all for her. She lived with me for about five months, then in an assisted living home for five months before moving to the nursing home where she has been for two and a half years. I see her every day after work and have a panic attack nearly every time I go. She is in pain, has short-term memory loss, diabetes, is weak and frail, in a wheelchair, and is very unhappy. I hate it! I would not wish this angry, guilty, agonizing, stressful, tied-down life on anyone.

Thank you for letting me vent.

You’re welcome, and I’m glad you responded. Watching your mother decline and feeling helpless to do anything about it is heart breaking and trying to be everything for her is not possible. Your personal life must be nonexistent. The emotional stress you are under sounds unbearable and I am concerned about you. Life is too short to be so unhappy. Emotional distress is no less painful than physical distress and needs to be remedied with the same determination. I urge you to talk to a mental health counselor as soon as possible. Let me know how you make out. God Bless.

* * *

Dear Mary,

I would like to know what could be done to give encouragement to an elderly person. This person has diabetes and as a result has been going through complications with her foot. There was once the mention of having it amputated but it was not necessary. My concern is about her will to live. She can be taken home and cared for, but chooses to stay in a nursing home. She feels like a burden to her children who have taken different shift to care for her in order to maintain a stable environment. On a daily basis she tells her children she would rather die. She has confided in me that she “just wants to get around like everyone else”. Everyone seems to think if her morale were better she would heal quicker.

What can be done to encourage her not to focus on what has taken place with her foot but on what she can do now and feel better mentally? Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Your concern for this woman’s moral and emotional wellbeing is admirable. She sounds dejected, forlorn, and hopeless about the future, as most of us would be under the circumstances. But emotionally healthy people move through the negative feelings in a reasonable amount of time. It is true that extended periods of negative emotions put undue stress on the immune system and healing and general physical health is compromised.

You can help her by checking to see if she is being treated for depression. Counseling by itself, or with antidepressant medication, can be very helpful although not routinely seen in a nursing home setting. Be a patient listener and validate her emotions while encouraging her to plan something to look forward to each day. Hands-on pampering like a trip to the beauty salon can be very uplifting. Planning a special outing, even if it’s to see a movie in the day room or a stroll around the grounds can be mood elevating. Try to get her outside on cooler, sunny days. Exposure to sunlight is known to stimulate the “feel good” chemicals in the brain. Talk to the Activity Director and have her plan special activities that this lady would enjoy.

You are a compassionate friend, keep up the good work.

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