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Medical care vital before caregiver's health irreparably shattered

Carol Bursack of Minding Our Elders

Dear Carol: I'm an only child and single. My mother developed cancer in her 70s and I helped Dad care for her until her death two years ago. Only months after her death, Dad turned into another person. It's not that he was simply angry. He seemed to be hallucinating and could be violent. I managed to get him to a psychiatrist who said that Dad has mixed dementia, likely a combination of Alzheimer's and something else, maybe Lewy body dementia. The trauma of seeing his wife decline and finally die in a nursing home may have kicked off Dad's symptoms.

I'm sympathetic but I could not handle Dad's situation alone and eventually placed him in the veteran's home. It's a good facility though he continues to decline as would be expected.

I see him nearly every day because I'm his only visitor, but now my own health is so degraded that I'm surprised that I'm still alive. I know I need to see a doctor but I don't even have the energy for that. I think I'm just venting to you but thank you for being there. — CT

Dear CT: I'm so sorry about your situation. You've given all that you can give and more. It's time to take care of yourself. If your dad could tell you that, he would.

Occasional visits to make certain that your dad's care is up to par may be all that you can handle at this time and that is fine.

Talk with him about your own health. Each person with dementia is different, but don't underestimate him. Sit with him and tell him that your health is falling apart. Let him know that you are in need of medical attention and that you won't be able to visit as often while you work to get better. Assure him that you'll always do your best to see that he's well cared for. He may not seem to comprehend what you are saying, but he may get the message on some level.

Next, see your primary doctor for a physical exam and a mental health professional, as well. Seek counseling as soon as possible so that you can unload this burden that you've carried for so long.

Secure the appointments in whatever order you can get them, but take action before your health is irreparably shattered. Just taking some positive steps may help you feel slightly more hopeful.

Your parents, before their illnesses, would have been horrified at the thought that their care would have put you in this position. Try to remember what they were like when they were healthy and how badly they'd have wanted you to stay well.

You need to obtain physical and psychological treatment for as long as it takes to understand that you have a life ahead of you that could be enjoyable. If you can take the time, I'd welcome a private note to let me know that you are taking action.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at She can be reached at