Family Caregiver Doris Hill Shares Benefits of Attending African American Caregivers Forum
For the past six years, family caregiver Doris Hill and her sisters have shared the responsibilities of caring for their mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. As their mother’s dementia progressed, the sisters often found themselves supporting and consoling each other as she became more confused and her behavioral symptoms of anger and agitation increased. When their mother occasionally lashed out at one of them in frustration, sometimes hurting feelings and straining their patience, they reminded themselves and each other that it wasn’t the mother they knew and loved speaking, but the result of her Alzheimer’s.
Caregiver Doris Hill shares some of the challenges of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease
In recent years, Doris has become their mother’s primary caregiver, moving her into her home to better care for her. In Doris’s words, “Mom is now very unpredictable. One moment she will be very loving and the next moment she is ready to fight and she does not care who is around, be it the young grandchildren, or whomever.”
Alzheimer’s has been described as “the long goodbye.” Together the sisters have shared their grief of the loss of their mother, as she once was. Doris said, “Before Mom became ill, she was very active. She went to church every Sunday, did water aerobics at the East Madison Y. She cooked, and she baked the very best sweet potato pie and pound cake. Now she doesn’t do those things anymore. One of the biggest and hardest changes to deal with is that she can become very angry, paranoid for who knows what reason. She will say very off the wall things…like instead of saying, ‘I can’t find my watch’, she will say ‘My watch is gone and I know you stole it.’ Mom has always been very respectful of other people, but since the illness she will curse you out with very little provocation and she sometimes is very combative!”
Doris has attended the annual African American Caregivers Forums, and she has reached out to others, participating in the caregivers’ panel, sharing her own experiences, and helping other family caregivers to better understand and come to terms with the devastating disease that is Alzheimer’s. “I think it is important to take advantage of any and all help that you can get,” said Doris. “I wanted to know what experiences and advice other caregivers had to share. I participated in the panel because I was interested in doing anything I could to help others who are caring for loved ones who have dementia. It is often easier to ‘get it’ if the person who is sharing information has first hand experience. There is a lot of information out there that can help you to better care for and cope with the behavioral problems of your loved one. The forum is a great place to get that information all at one time, presented by many individuals who have lots of expertise.”
Doris understands the unique challenges for family caregivers who take care of loved ones with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. When asked about this, Doris confided, “One of the greatest challenges is finding the time to deal with the special needs of your loved one. It often becomes necessary for you to change your life to focus on their needs first. This is very difficult, considering most people have a pretty full life already—being there for their children, grandchildren, husband or significant other; their house, cooking, shopping…also, most caregivers have a job to go to.” She added, “Perhaps the greatest challenge is coming to grips with the fact that your loved one is not the same person you once knew because the illness has changed them so much. It’s hard caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s, but they took care of us when we were children and now it’s our turn to take care of them. I am thankful that I am able to do it, but I can use all the help I can get!”
This year the 3rd Annual African American Caregivers Forum will be held on Saturday, October 25 at the Northwest African American Museum. To reserve your seat for this free event, register on-line at www.alz.org/alzwa or call (206) 529-3894.