Q: I'm caring for my terminally ill mother, and the stress is taking its toll. She's bedridden and dependent on me for all her needs. Her hospice provides baths...

Share story

Q: I’m caring for my terminally ill mother, and the stress is taking its toll. She’s bedridden and dependent on me for all her needs. Her hospice provides baths and a nurse each week. However, the rest of the time I’m pretty much on my own. My dear husband was able to take family medical leave from work to help. We have two young children, plus our 18-year-old just started college.

I hope my mom lives a long time; on the other hand, her diagnosis was four to eight weeks back in July, and I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up. I barely leave the house; she uses a bedpan, and I’m the only woman in the house. I’m losing my patience, feeling overwhelmed and very alone. I want to find additional help but feel guilt about letting a stranger take care of her.

A: By its very nature, caregiving is often isolating, lonely, exhausting and overwhelming. Far too many caregivers don’t realize the resources that are available to help; lose sight of the goodness they do; do too much; feel guilty about not doing more; and wish it were over so they could get back to their lives, then realize that means their loved one is dead, so they feel guilty about that, too. Not a fair job description by any means.

A recent study by Evercare, a division of UnitedHealth Group, and the National Alliance for Caregiving, took an in-depth look at the impact of caregiving on the caregivers’ own health and wellness. It has some pretty bleak findings.

• Nine in 10 (91 percent) of caregivers surveyed suffer from depression.

• Because of stress and worry, millions of caregivers neglect their own physical and mental health, resulting in extreme fatigue, poor eating and exercise habits, and greater use of medications and alcohol, which affects their ability to provide care.

• The more time the caregivers spend caring for a loved one, and the more intense that care is, the greater the impact on their own health.

Caregiving is like a marathon race we don’t train for. Most of us enlist rather casually, rarely realizing what we’re in for. While it can be one of the most rewarding experiences in our lives, it can also be one of the most difficult.

I believe the first rule of caregiving is to determine your limits ahead of time. If you wait, you’ll be too exhausted to answer rationally. Consider: What can you do without harming yourself, and where will you draw the line? My answer will be different from yours, reflecting our different personalities and circumstances. But once you reach your limit, you have to stick to it. When more is needed, somebody else in the family has to do it or it has to be purchased.

And sometimes we need a push from our friends. The Evercare study found that, even where support services exist, many caregivers won’t use them.

Caregiving memories stay with us the rest of our lives. The less stressed and overworked we are, the better they will be.

Q: Yesterday my 80-year-old mother got a phone call from a man who asked for the name of her bank because he had $8,000 for her. She couldn’t remember and called me to ask. I said it sounded like a scam. The guy called her again and was impatient when she told him to call me but couldn’t remember my number. Fortunately, my mom can see the humor and advantage of her memory lapses. We laughed a bit, but we’re concerned. Then a friend suggested I write a script for my mom for any call asking for her bank or financial information. He suggested I type it up in large type size and place it near her phone. I thought your readers would be interested. Here it is:

“My son handles all my accounts. You can reach him at __________.” If they call again, say, “Please send details in writing to _____________.” If the caller is rude, hang up. If they keep calling, say, “I’m calling the police!” Then do it!

A: Thank you to April Richardson of Seattle for this great idea! I don’t write much about elder scams — it’s like warning against the ocean. But this is such an easy, simple way to thwart the bad guys, I’m sure many readers will use it and find other uses as well.

I especially like the advice to call the police. Many of us, but especially older people, grow up learning to be polite to strangers. It’s not nice to be suspicious, hang up or refuse to answer questions. Some people are lonely and like the attention of someone calling. And, even though we all know the adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” there’s a part of us that holds out hope for an unexpected windfall. Thus, our wishes, upbringing and loneliness make us susceptible to getting conned.

It’s important to develop simple systems like this to protect our interests when our guard is down.

Liz Taylor’s column runs Mondays in the Northwest Life section. A specialist on aging and long-term care, she consults with individuals and teaches workshops on how to plan for one’s aging and aging parents. E-mail her at growingolder@seattletimes.com or write to P.O. Box 11601, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. You can see all of her columns at www.seattletimes.com/growingolder/.