Resident Caregiver vs. Primary Caregiver

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Dreama Ringler, age 29, Ohio

I wanted to share a bit about how I thought I knew how to be a caregiver professionally and/or privately. How different they actually turned out to be!

I began working as a CNA in a LTCF at the age of 16. I loved every minute of it. It was hard, the daily duties ever-changed, but helping those who could not help themselves was so rewarding! Through the twists and turns of life I found myself in a big career change, but I also found a wonderful man with whom I chose to spend my life.

Marrying him also meant I was to “adopt” his elderly mother. He had been her “rock” for many years. She had an accident which left her unable to live by herself. When I first moved in, she was stubborn but still independent.

Almost six years later, I find myself back in the role of caregiver. Even having the experience that I gained from my 10+ years of working in LTC, I was not mentally prepared for my new life. Clocking in/out daily meant there was a break to the stress. Now I know it’s nothing like being an in-home caregiver to family. There is no removing yourself from the job. It’s now your life, their life. Different challenges and struggles, and gifts.

She's developed the early stages of dementia. She lacks the drive to eat, bathe, care about her welfare. For example:

I walked into the kitchen one day and found her on the step-stool trying to get a glass bowl down from the top of our ceiling-high cabinets with a meat fork. After the initial shock wore off, I helped her down, and got the bowl. Since then, we have hid the step-stool and meat fork!

Another day, my husband and I came home from errands to find her at the kitchen table while a pot pie was going up in flames in the microwave.

This is when I really got nervous: I was working outside, smelled something burning. I went inside, she was watching TV. I asked if she's cooking something and she said, “No.” So I went to get myself something to drink and found a chicken patty on the stove ... on fire! No more knobs on the stove.

These are things I never dealt with in the nursing home. I never had to worry about them cooking. Never climbing up to reach something. My focus was on their emotional well-being, their hygiene. I had no idea what challenges I would face in my new life.

It’s hard. Seeing someone you care about change before your eyes. The daily struggle of balancing your role as caregiver and daughter-in-law. Making sure the roles don't blur. A CG must be patient, kind. A D-in-L wants to make her see logic, sense. There isn’t any logic for her, anymore. She just cannot process it. This has been a hard, frustrating lifestyle to adapt to. And sometimes I have to stop myself from getting angry. I know she cannot help it. I know it’s the disease taking over. If needed, I simply take a breath and walk away.

Daily life isn’t bad. There are days where her eyes are alight with joy and laughter. Days where she can reminisce about her youth. They’re a treat when they happen. Especially for her.

In the end, I have learned the roles are nothing alike. Talk about a wake-up! But life is for living, learning. Taking it one day at a time is my biggest lesson. That, and learning “deep breaths” really do work for everyone. Be blessed.