"How's you mother doing?"
"Oh, she's just amazing. She's 91, you know, and she still lives in her own house and does all her own cooking and cleaning. We bought her one of those monitoring things, where she can push a button if she gets in trouble, but that was more for our peace of mind. She never uses it. She just astounds us all."
That was last week. Then things changed.
Mom felt light headed, so she pushed the button. It's a good thing, too, because that was the start of a major stroke. Now her left side is paralysed, she's in the hospital and they aren't sure how much function she will recover. She'll never be able to live independently again. Physio, assistive devices, long term care--there's a whole world of new things for you to learn, and you need to know them yesterday.
There are aspects of being a care partner that can lead to a lot of fear. Here are a few of the most prominent ones.
1) Fear of a sudden change. Even if life wasn't as perfect as the situation described above, you may have reached some sort of "normal," only to have everything change in an instant. A severe medical condition, a fall with a broken bone, or a sudden decline can change everything. We are seldom prepared for how life changes when this happens, and there are no guarantees of recovery.
2) Fear of decline. Even when the changes are small and incremental, a few of them can add up to a major decline, and it can be frightening. Perhaps there is a loss of appetite, leading to weight loss, lack of energy and loss of muscle and fat. As a care partner, you are looking for ways to solve this, but in a short time you realise there has been a major change. It's frightening.
3) Fear of the unknown. The whole medical field speaks a strange foreign language, and you may have no idea how it relates to your loved one.
4) Fear of devastating change. Do you think about the day your father won't know you, or your mother keeps calling your son by your name? Lack of recognition from someone you love is a fear that lurks in the minds of many who deal with dementia.
5) Fear of death. When your mother has always been there, you can't imagine life without her. You know it is inevitable, but can't fathom it.
All these fears and more plague care partners as they walk (sometimes stumbling) this journey. Next week, we'll look at some practical steps toward dealing with the fear.