In mid-August, I found myself as a guest in the home of an 87-year-old Air Force veteran and retired aeronautical engineer in historic, humid Williamsburg, Virginia. I was asked by his son, a fellow caregiver, to gather the pieces that would help to shape the future of his 87-year-old father’s long-term care.
I was invited to stay in their one-story brick home nestled on the edge of the 87 miles long Chickahominy River.
Don has lived on the River’s Edge since 1960. He raised two adopted sons, one of whom is deceased. Damian who is now 52, is the only member of Don’s immediate family and support system.
Don was thrust into the reality of aging alone after his second wife divorced him in 2017. After two years, loneliness and isolation began to manifest. Damian moved in with his father to explore what could be done to fill in the gaps and ease the burden of his care.
Don is a tall and sturdy 87-year-old. He can walk anywhere he pleases on his 1.3-acre property that bustles with bluebirds, cardinals, bald eagles, ospreys, ducks, butterflies, hummingbirds and insects every color of the rainbow.
Don has arthritis, high blood pressure, and AFib, which puts him at a higher risk of stroke. He is fortunate to be free of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
A daily routine of drinking coffee, sitting out on his porch, watching the news, calling extended family, taking a nap, and using his computer provide an active, semi-independent lifestyle. He enjoys complete mobility and can perform all of his activities of daily living.
Though Don is a semi-independent, capable 87-year-old, there are a number of gaps in his care that he cannot fill. Preparing meals, managing the finances, keeping up the house, getting to doctor’s appointments and maintaining the landscape are all out of his reach.
Don has deeply held beliefs that family members are the only ones that can manage the different roles inherent within his sphere of life as he ages. He is resistant to hire outside help and is unable to see that the fulcrum of his care system is bearing the weight of two full-time jobs.
Don has decided that once he needs hands-on caregiving, that his son will perform those duties, too.
Damian is aware of his father’s expectations and is doing the best that he can to maintain his inner-balance in the midst of spreading himself across the stage of responsibilities.
I was aware of Don’s deep hesitation to hire outside help before my visit. I decided that I would show up as a non-judgmental, neutral entity to provide a semblance of relief for Damian.
I spent a couple of hours of one-on-one interaction with Don each day for 5 days.
We spent our time learning about his new iPhone, watching Zumba videos, taking photos of nature, filling his birdbaths and enjoying casual conversation. It was my intention to give him an authentic experience of companionship.
It was my hope that he could see that this type of interaction was not part of his daily life.
Damian’s ability to nurture the father/son aspect of their relationship is greatly affected by the demands of filling the gaps in his father’s care.
Don’s unwillingness to expand his circle of care is taking away from his quality of life by limiting his exposure to genuine companionship from someone who is not burdened with responsibilities to his care on a daily basis.
I recognized that Damian is being pressed from all angles to fill the gaps in care.
As of this point, Don is unwilling to engage in a dialogue about hiring a caregiver, housekeeper or gardener.
Though the situation seems discouraging, there are powerful techniques that Damian uses to maintain his mental, emotional and physical health.
Damian has a diverse set of self-care practices.
- 1 hour of meditation twice a day
- Participation in group meditation once per week
- Plant-based diet
- Long nature walks
- Deep breathing exercises
- Strength training at a local gym
- Daily positive affirmations
- Creative writing
All of these activities serve to reduce stress, provide a self-care foundation and attempt to limit the burden of care in which Damian can rely on to carry him through the toughest days.
Will Damian’s powerful self-care practices be enough to sustain his physical, mental and spiritual well-being over time?
In a 2005 study from The Commonwealth Fund, “Caregivers are also more likely than non-caregivers to have health problems of their own. Three-fifths of caregivers reported fair or poor health status, one or more chronic conditions, or a disability, compared with one-third of non-caregivers (Figure 2) Caregivers reported chronic conditions at nearly twice the rate of non-caregivers (45% vs. 24%).”
Can Damian defy the odds of an increased risk of chronic disease with the support of a healthy lifestyle?
What are your thoughts?