Loneliness of Caregivers

Caregivers need to have big hearts

On Life and Love after 50 eNewsletter – May 11, 2018

Senior Loneliness. Last week, I asked Champs for input on the loneliness of caregiving.

Before I begin today’s column, I need to mention that writing about this topic was difficult. Caregiving is not easy, as you will comprehend as you read these two responses from Champs.

A positive that emerged for me: It made me appreciate—even more than I already do–how fortunate I am to have Greta, a wonderful and loving partner, in my life. And I hope these two stories will have a similar affect on you.

Also, as we age, we must realize that for some of us, care giving will become a reality. We might become a care-giver, or a care-receiver. Either way, we’ll do our best.

       Caregivers have big hearts 

Linda’s story: Recovering from caregiving

Linda emailed, “I was my husband’s caregiver for many years. Dealing with the loneliness was harder some days than others. I miss having to take care of him.

He had open heart surgery, having his aortic valve replaced in the 1990’s, and never really recovered from that. He ended up getting an infection in his incision, and then was put on “IV” antibiotics for six weeks.

After that, it was just one more bump in the road after another. When he passed away, there was nothing left for me to do. Everything was done and over. I miss talking and laughing with him. I miss getting a hug for no reason. The evenings are the worst as there is no one to talk with or help you figure out a problem.

I was also kind of a caregiver to our dog (a Lhasa Apso). She had arthritis in her back and needed treatments and meds. I had to put her to sleep this past July. Now, I am really alone.

I feel as you become his caregiver, after so many years, you are no longer his wife, you are his caregiver. That realization was tough on some days. Dealing with senior loneliness, you try to get involved with others, but I always felt uncomfortable as everyone usually had someone and I was there alone.

It has been four years this month that he has been gone. I currently have a job working 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. That kind of uses up my evenings. My job is necessary, as there were no funds left when he passed. I am getting better and stronger each day, but it is taking time.

Althea’s story: In a way, caregiving is her savior, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy

Althea said, “I am ‘sort of’ a caregiver; I live with a couple in Yuba City, California. I get lonely and feel very alone in this world most of the time.

I’m 69 and was taken-in last August by a married couple who are both 81 and live in their own 3-bedroom, 2-bath house. I was in jeopardy of becoming homeless in Placerville, a couple of hours from here, and, through their daughter finding me, they accepted me and my 7-year-old dog, to help with their challenges of aging.

They gave me the master bedroom and bath. I don’t get paid, but, that balances out with my not having to pay rent or for groceries.

The wife has dementia; I help with her issues when her husband is not around. He goes fishing at least three times a week and keeps busy in his garage the other days. He and I take turns making the evening meals (she doesn’t cook anymore; she ‘tidies up’ but doesn’t clean anything).

I’ve been dealing with senior loneliness for a long time because I’ve been divorced for many years and have been living alone since 2008 when my last child graduated from college.

This senior loneliness feels different though. Before, I would be lonely, but I was living in my own home, surrounded by my things that were familiar and made me feel safe. I could putter and find things to do in my house or outside.

Now, I have my own room with all my things and furniture in it, but I’m living in someone else’s house where everything else is out of my control…like arranging the kitchen cabinets and drawers the way I’d prefer or moving things around in the rest of the house.

I don’t spend any time in their living room. I spend a few hours in the dining room where I do jigsaw puzzles on the big table (they don’t use the room anymore) and kitchen, eating or cleaning up.

I spend most of the day in my room with my dog: computer, iPad, phone, TV, books, magazines, my thoughts, sometimes writing in a journal.

To combat senior loneliness, I get out most every day. I take my dog for walks at one of the many grassy/shady parks. Sometimes, I just drive around for a while and run my own small errands for personal items, also sometimes buy lunch and eat at one of the parks.

I found a therapist last October and have a standing appointment for one hour on Wednesdays. It helps to have someone to vent to, get advice on dealing with a person with dementia, and just have a coherent female to talk to!

On most discount-Tuesdays, I see a movie showing late morning or middle of the day. Before Craigslist eliminated the personals column, I had an ad looking to meet a man or woman to share movies with and/or become friends.

Meeting a man didn’t happen, (only a couple first meetings). I did meet one lady in her 70’s who lives nearby. We’ll have breakfast now and then and visit a while, chat through emails too but we’re very different.

Through my therapist I met another lady, also in her 70’s, whom I no longer see. No compatibility there – she stopped contacting me after we met three times. I’m thinking she wasn’t comfortable with my situation.

Then, five weeks ago, on a dating site, I met a man I have started spending a little time with–three dates since our initial coffee meeting.

He’s 66 and lives an hour’s drive away, so I’m not sure if either of us will be able to keep seeing each other on a regular basis, since the long drive up and back triggers my arthritis pain in my hands and shoulders, and I don’t have a lot of money for gas.

Plus, he knows I don’t live in my own home, so our dates down here are in the park or out for meals. I don’t feel comfortable having him over here – yet. Even if/when I do, it’s not my house.

This week, my therapist gave me some info about an Alzheimer’s support group here in my town. They meet on the fourth Saturday every month for two hours, at a nearby senior living facility. Hopefully that will help me too. Might even meet other ladies there to become friends with.

All of this doesn’t completely ‘fix’ my loneliness issues, because when I’m back in the house, the issues wash over me all over again, but I’m doing my best to overcome loneliness every day and think positively.

Tom’s final take: It’s important for caregivers to stay in contact with as many friends and family members as they can. Senior social interaction is critical. Althea made that clear. And her reminder to think positively is just as critical.

Author: Tom Blake

Tom Blake is a newspaper columnist in south Orange County, California. He has published five books. His primary topic is finding love after 50 and beyond, sometimes far beyond, for people 80 and older as well. He also blogs about travel at TravelAfter55.com.

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