Ann and Joe Anthony of Queen Anne’s County, Maryland were in their eighties, with a variety of health problems, including memory issues. Their family stepped up to the plate to care for them with teamwork a professional sports team would envy.
Last week, three members of the Anthony Family captivated the Talbot Dementia Conference audience with the emotional but pragmatic story of their caregiving journey. The panel included Joe & Ann’s daughter Jane Anthony, daughter-in-law Susan Anthony, and granddaughter Emily Anthony. They detailed how, over the course of years, the entire family ensured Ann and Joe could stay at home for as long as possible.
They didn’t sugarcoat it; it was exhausting work. But because there were so many adult children as well as grandchildren (teens and young adults) in their family, they were able to split up the duties according to each individual’s skills and comfort level. Some family members did not want to provide hands-on care (giving medicine, bathing, etc.) and that was okay. But those family members uncomfortable with hands-on care were able to contribute in other ways like running errands or mowing the lawn.
The family members all took turns staying at Joe and Ann’s house when needed. At one point, the family was providing 20 hours of care per day at the home while they paid an aide for the other 4 hours. They kept a journal at Joe and Ann’s home to leave notes for one another about what went on during a “shift”.
Jane, Susan and Emily readily admitted there were arguments over the care. Everyone was stressed, tired and got upset with one another from time to time. But they forgave each other and moved on. They also tried to laugh and find the humor in their situation. Now that Joe and Ann have passed on, the Anthonys are genuinely grateful for the experience and feel an even stronger bond with each other.
Unfortunately this is an unusual story. Rarely do we see families pull their strengths together and collaborate like this. Sometimes it is simply because of geography; extended families don’t always live near their older loved ones. Other times it is because of estrangements, power struggles over the care or apathy.
If your family is considering taking care of an older loved one at home, learn from the Anthonys:
1. Don’t do it alone. Caring for an older loved one at home is a job for many, not one or two.
2. Respect what each family member is comfortable doing. Some people can contribute more effectively by cooking dinner or even picking up the takeout instead of bathing Dad.
3. Communicate. The journal idea worked great for the Anthonys. But if your family is always checking their smart phones, texting updates might work well too.
4. Have a sense of humor. While it is heartbreaking to see older loved ones decline, being open to moments of levity and laughter helps you get through it.
5. Forgive. Don’t hold grudges. You will argue and be irritated with the other family members. Get over it because someday that family member may be taking care of you!