Thursday, 20 June 2013

Caregiver Wednesdays-- Caring for a parent

In February, I read an article that stunned me. I meet lots of family members who are caring for their parents. It is the natural rhythmn of life, and although not easy, it is expected.

What if the caregiver is 18?

I read about a young man who looks after his 48-year old mother who has an early onset case of fronteraltemporal lobe dementia (an Alzheimer-type dementia). "Austin Mobley was just 6 when his mom, Tracy, asked if he knew the owner of a black-and-white dog running around their yard. "Mom," he said, laughing, "that's Daisy," their longtime family pet. Twelve years later, Austin cooks, balances the check book, drives Tracy on errands from their two-bedroom apartment in Buffalo, Mo., and manages his 48-year-old mother's medication for the dementia diagnosed when she was 36. "The hardest thing for me," says Austin, 18, "is not knowing what an actual mom is." 1

My heart aches for the boy who expresses those words. He's never been a kid.

"Every morning the high school senior rises at 6:30 a.m., makes sure his mom takes her meds-Namenda for dementia, Valium for paranoia, Prozac for depression-and then gets a ride to school. After school, he heads home, does his homework and gets to his other job-paying bills, picking up around the house and helping Tracy cook a dinner of spaghetti, steak or pork chops. At night, he makes sure Tracy settles under a blanket in a recliner and gives her a bedtime hug; she keeps the TV on all night because it soothes her. That's on a good day. On a bad day, Austin worries about leaving her alone: Before going on the right meds, Tracy used to wander, once falling into a ravine; the sheriff was called and the dogs sent out. "I feel guilty I can't be the mom he deserves," says Tracy, who speaks lucidly about her son's sacrifices and even cracks jokes, but forgets what she said just a moment before. "I can't bake him cookies, I can't drive places."1

My heart breaks for the mother who expresses those words. She can't be the mom she longs to be.

"Yet she's accomplished what every mom hopes to do-raise a solid young person with dreams of his own. After graduation, Austin hopes to join the military or attend community college. "He told me he'd put his life on hold until I needed to go into a [nursing] home," says Tracy, who has already lined up an assisted living facility. "I told him, 'No, you go on with your life.' He's a good kid. And this has made him stronger."1

Interesting, isn't it? Austin has cared for his mother since early days, and has missed many of the nurturing experiences other kids have had. His mother can't drive him to baseball games or give dating advice. Every day, she is a little less there. Yet Austin has become a responsible, caring and nurturing young man--qualities many of us would long for in our children. 

Caring for a parent at any age can be challenging. Slipping out of one role and into another requires tact and wisdom. I hope Austin has support as he walks this journey. He, as any caregiver, needs someone to talk things over with, someone on whom to vent, someone to listen.

I also think he will find it more difficult than he imagines to leave his mom when the time comes to leave for military college. He will leave, but there are ways in which she will always be with him.

And that's not a bad thing.


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