My father has become a full time caregiver since my mother had a serious stroke about 7 years ago. He has been diligent about leaning how to take care of my mother through this time but there were many days he didn’t know who to turn to or what sources to read. I have spent some time with my dad lately to find out what worked for him and my mother and most of the information in this article comes from his practical experience. This is His stroke education for caregivers.
This is advice from someone in the trenches who has found a way to keep both he and his wife healthy, out of the hospital and has kept my mom out of a nursing home.
The Night of My Mother’s Massive Stroke
I remember getting that call late at night from my sister. She lives near my parents so my Dad had called for her help right after calling 911. My sister told me that my mother was being rushed to the hospital and they thought it may be another stroke.
My mother’s first several strokes, decades ago, were considered light strokes which she was able to recover from. This stroke was different.
I made the 4-hour drive in record time and I remember walking into my mother’s room and seeing her within 6 hours of the initial stroke. I remember talking with her and hearing the nurse talking about how they were going to run several more tests and keep her there “to keep an eye on her.”
My mother’s speech was fine at that time and then a second stroke hit her again right there while I was standing in the hallway right outside her door. I believe that is the point were my Dad’s long journey into the caregiver world really began.
One and a Half Months in Rehab
What I am about to write is not meant to be critical of the medical staff that treated my mother after this stroke. This is just my father’s recollection of what happened and how things transpired as he struggled to learn how to care for my mother.
My mother stayed at the hospital’s heart unit for about one week and then was transferred to a long term rehabilitation center connected to the hospital were she spent the next month and a half.
Times were tough for my dad at the hospital but I don’t think everything really settled in until he started seeing her recovery process at the rehabilitation center. He was able to stay with her there much of the time and had access to all the medical staff and physical therapist as he started to learn the real extent of what the massive stroke had done to my mother.
This first month was spent watching the rehabilitation staff work with my mother to discover what speech issues they were dealing with, the mental impacts of the stroke and to fully understand how quickly she was recovering and to what extent she may not recover.
This was a stressful time for my Dad but one of hope for a speedy recovery. My Mother and Father had always spent a lot of time in prayer and this remained the same for them there in the rehabilitation center.
My Dad asked a lot of questions and had a lot of information sent his way even though he may not have remembered it all. We always said my Dad was “hard of hearing” but he really was doing his best to understand this.
The month and a half was about up and the insurance company told the hospital that they were not paying for any more of the rehabilitation and that she wasn’t showing enough improvement. I remember my Dad being pretty upset at this as my mother really needed some additional specialized treatment from the rehabilitation staff. Well, this is a subject for another time and not one to get mad about once again.
It was just amazing to hear the doctor say that the insurance company was dictating how long she could stay even though it was the staff’s recommendation that she needed to stay longer. Maybe I should get off this subject.
My Dad’s First Month As a Caregiver
Maybe I should get to the point of this article. This is about my Dad’s journey to becoming a great caregiver for my mother and really stepping up to the plate and becoming the loving husband he was always meant to be. I must add here that my Dad’s love for my Mother and his dedication to her has surprised everyone in the family. My parents have been married for over 50 years and have always loved each other but this stroke put everything in a completely different perspective.
He learned about being a caregiver through “hard knocks.” He said he really didn’t learn that much from the doctor’s but he did agree that every stroke is different so he wasn’t blaming them. Most of his caregiver knowledge came from the rehabilitation center and through learning at home.
He learned really quickly that stroke patients need a lot of fluids. My mom passed out at one point and my dad learned from the paramedics that she needed twice as much water as he had been giving her.
Another time the nurse noticed my Mom’s eyes looking “glassy” and recommend that my Dad get her medication adjusted.
A lot of my Dad’s caregiver education came from their continued long term rehabilitation at the Myers Center there in Springfield, Missouri. The staff has been a huge help to both of my parents. This is also the location were my dad was able to attend caregiver classes, for free, and learned a lot from other people who were going through the same things he was dealing with.
My Dad told me he wouldn’t wish what he had to go through as a caregiver on his worst enemy. No one can even come close to understanding what a caregiver goes through unless you have been in their shoes. My Dad told me that about 90% to 95% of the caregivers he knows have left their partner and put them in a nursing home. This isn’t a comment to disrespect caregivers, it’s more of a reality check on how hard it is to take care of someone full time. This has been challenging for my Dad to work with my Mother, now turn the tables and ask yourself if my Mother could even physically take care of my Dad if she was the caregiver.
My Dad spent a lot of time reading magazines, talking to other caregivers, and the rehabilitation staff. He had signed up for several mail order supplements and programs to help stroke victims, many of which he returned and got his money back. He finally found a few sources He and my Mother really love and trust.
One doctor that he swears by (and I assure you that my Dad doesn’t swear) is the Health Alert by Docter Bruce West. This is one of the doctor’s that puts the emphasis on health and supplements and wants to get people off their medication.
One thing he has learned from Dr. West is that Cod Liver Oil is important to helping with high blood pressure. They are taking several supplements to help with their blood pressure but one thing my Dad is always warning me about now is to not buy the “junk” in the stores. “You need to find companies that make the really healthy stuff.” That’s about as “medical” as you will hear my Dad get.
Through this time he as seen the need to be aware of how their prescribed medication is affecting them. He has had to ask doctor’s several times to change the medication, due to negative side effects. A nurse once “whispered” to him while at his home, when out of earshot of another medical staff member, that they need to do their best to get off the medicine and never be on more than three medications at one time.
I will be writing more on caregiver resource in the near future but suffice it to say here is that all caregivers need to research for themselves what is needed for the one they are giving care to because every situation is different. My Dad just want’s to warn people that “the medication is killing you” and that he thinks that many of the elderly deaths are caused by the medication and not just old age or accidents. He believes that the causes of deaths are attributed to other things when many times the death is due to things like kidney failure which can be traced back to the medication.
Once again, please remember that this is not a professional’s opinion, only the opinion of one caregiver who has been living this “challenging life” for more than 7 years now.
7 Years Later – How Has My Dad Made It Work?
One thing my Dad was emphatic about is that you need to find a doctor who will “really” work with you and try to help get you off medication. My Dad said that “the medication was killing us.” That’s a strong statement but this comes from someone who has done all he can to improve both of their health and has a desire to live a long and healthy life free of medication.
My Dad started to sum up the long road to recovery and improving their health. He said “when it finally got to Life and Death, they realized they had to make a change.” He told me, “don’t wait until it’s too late. You need to make the changes now so you don’t find yourself in our situation.”
My Dad also added in a parting shot to me that “sodas are dynamite to your health.” That was not meant to be positive.
I would like to give you a link to a great resource on AARP. They have a quick summary of websites and phone numbers that caregivers and family members may find helpful.
My Final Thoughts for You and Your Family
Caregivers may have the most difficult job in the world. They do not get enough credit for all the things they have to do and no one really understands what they are going through.
My personal recommendation is that we all should do more to help take care of our families and help relieve those who are the primary caregivers. They need a break and some kind of vacation. It may not be much but even the smallest things can help.
I will leave you with this last thought.
My Dad can’t get away from my mother for more than about 2 hours but what we have done is for me to find time to come and visit them and wake up really early to head over to a restaurant together for breakfast. This is just a nice quiet time for my Dad to relax, drink some coffee, and just enjoy some quiet time were all he has to do is relax and enjoy is breakfast. This may not seem like much to most of us, but this is something he really looks forward to.
Oh, and we always take some strawberry crepes back to my mother so she can also enjoy a wonderful breakfast.