Carol Bradley Bursack
Dear Carol: As the holidays approach, I'm facing the second anniversary of my husband's death from cancer. Until he entered hospice care, he'd endured months of misery and pain. With hospice, he was able to find comfort and we had some wonderful talks together before he became too ill to communicate. His death was pain-free and dignified. I have a loving son and daughter-in-law as well as two grandchildren. I feel guilty about being angry and frustrated over his departure from my life when I should be feeling grateful for memories of a long, happy marriage and a good life now.
Dear Carol: I've spent the last seven years caring for my mother who was a cancer survivor with many unrelated health issues, as well as my father who had dementia. Both are now gone, and I truly miss them. Not only am I sad, but I'm surprised at how lost I feel. Apparently I've identified as a caregiver for so long I don't know how to do anything else. I'm divorced, have no children and am retired. My friends and I didn't have much in common during my caregiving so we drifted apart. Now, I'm sitting empty-handed and almost empty-hearted.
Dear Carol: My wife, Ann, has started taking some drugs that are supposed to help with her Alzheimer's disease. She was just diagnosed last month, but she's had symptoms for the past year or so. Ann takes a combination of two drugs, and the side effects aren't pleasant. She's been dizzy, constipated and has a headache almost nonstop. She has some confusion, but confusion was one of the reasons she started the drugs. What I want to know is how are we supposed to tell if these drugs are helping, hurting or doing nothing but giving her extra problems?
Dear Carol: My mother is 84 and has been ill for years with various ailments, including cancer. She recently fell and hit her head badly enough to require a trip to the emergency room. Mom lives in an excellent nursing home, so she was able to return there after the fall rather than go into the hospital. She did well for a time, but now they tell me that she is in the death process. I didn't know that death was a process. How do I handle this?—Tammy Dear Tammy: My heart goes out to you during this time of confusion and grief.
Dear Carol: Six months ago, my husband was diagnosed with vascular dementia and soon after that with Alzheimer's. I have health problems including osteoporosis. We're in our late 70s. While my husband has always been a gentle man and would never have struck me, he now is becoming abusive. I know that this is the disease and not him. When he realizes that he's shoved me or struck out at me he feels terrible, but he then forgets the whole thing. So far, nothing terrible has happened, but I'm getting frightened.
Dear Carol: Both of my parents had Alzheimer's and have since died. I continually read advice on avoiding Alzheimer's with diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes and I find this insulting. It seems to imply that people like my parents caused their own disease. We all know that Alzheimer's can't be cured and probably can't be avoided. If we're going to get it we're going to get it.
Dear Carol: My husband and I hate northern winters and vowed to move south when we retired. Anywhere warm. Now, with retirement near, my husband has developed younger-onset Alzheimer's disease. He's still in a very early stage so we are unsure about whether it's best to stay where we are or to go ahead with our plans. If we move, should we move now or wait? We hate to scrap our dream but we don't want to make things worse for him. What do you think?
Dear Carol: My mother has been in a nursing home for two years because of strokes and vascular dementia combined with Alzheimer's. It's obvious that she'll never go home. Dad died years ago, but Mom stayed in the family home where we kids grew up. While my siblings and I know that this house must be sold to pay for the nursing home, Mom talks about the house and going back to it. Do we tell her that we have to sell it or do we just pretend that it's still hers?
Dear Carol: My mom survived cancer in her mid-years. Now, she's developed dementia and has also battled three rounds of pneumonia. It seems that each illness she's survived has diminished her. She's in late-stage Alzheimer's, and when I look at her sitting in a chair but not knowing anyone or even understanding what is happening when she is washed, fed and comforted, all I can think of is why can't she die. I feel terrible about this. I read about people who would give anything to have their parents back no matter what shape they are in.
Dear Carol: Both of my parents have had significant health issues during the last few years. Lately, things have been good. They live in their own home and I check on them daily. My problem is that I constantly feel like the other shoe is going to drop. Since their health scares, I can't seem to relax and enjoy the fact that they are doing well now. Instead, I live in fear of the next crisis. How do I get out of this mode? — Marianne Dear Marianne: Caregivers often live in a fight or flight mode because of frequent emergencies.