Personalized Caregiver Support Makes a World of Difference

Would a few minutes of break time be life-changing to you?

One morning, a caregiver with a thankful and satisfied voice said to us, "Thank you for your help. Finally I could sit down and spend time, and make myself a cup of coffee this morning."

That statement totally melted us down! Most of us get to have our coffee easily every single day and some even drink several cups a day. Most of us may not be aware of the fact that having a few minutes a day to brew a cup of coffee could actually mean the world for a caregiver.

Eighty-six-year-old Mr. Look was admitted to the hospital for a few days after a stroke attack. Later, he was discharged from the rehabilitation center and moved back home with his wife, Anna, age 73, who became responsible for her husband's care.

Anna used to be socially active but suffered from multiple health problems herself. Following her husband's stroke, her life was totally turned around. She had to help Mr. Look—in various ways—around the clock so that he can stay safe at home.

One Friday afternoon last December, Anna left her husband in the car because she lacked the energy and strength to get him out of the car. She walked into our office and asked for immediate help with a weak voice. She said she was exhausted from lack of sleep over several weeks. She gave us her contact information but couldn't stay long because she was so tired.

It makes a big difference when we can provide immediate assistance. We called Anna soon after they left to make sure they arrived home safely, and helped connect them with a volunteer organization and emergency respite that gave Anna a break from the intensive caregiving tasks.

Many people experience physical and mental health and social impacts when they take on caregiving for a loved one. We visited the Looks' home the following Monday morning. We saw both Mr. Look and Anna sleeping on the sofa in the living room.

Anna told us that she was too fatigued and weak to lift, hold, and walk Mr. Look around the house. Anna looked bony, pale and extremely exhausted. She also felt depressed, lonely and helpless. She even had suicidal thoughts.

Anna said she was stressed and extremely tired because she was not prepared to become the primary caregiver of her husband. She had not had any real rest since she began worrying about Mr. Look.

During our visit, Anna went back and forth to check up on Mr. Look to make sure he was doing all right. She also looked restless due to her worry. Anna noticed how her caregiving duties negatively affected her physical and mental health.

After the home visit, we were able to identify caregiving support needs for the couple. We helped them order a shower chair so Mr. Look wouldn't fall in the tub. In addition, we ordered a commode for Mr. Look so that he would not have to go through a long corridor to the toilet at night. That helped Anna have better sleep at night.

Moreover, we set up weekly respite care for Mr. Look so that Anna could have some personal time for herself. It helped to reduce the strain due to caregiving and also improved the couple's relationship. Finally, we made periodic phone calls to support Anna emotionally. These comprehensive supports helped to improve her general well-being, and also sustained her caregiving life.

Without our immediate assistance, Anna's life could have become total chaos. She told us later that, without our help, she might have collapsed and died before her husband. Now Anna's life has changed and it gets better and better. She finally found some time for herself as well as providing care for her husband. Mr. Look's mobility has improved. He was able to walk again by himself. Both of them now sleep on their bed in their bedroom.

Contributor Janice Mei Ha Kong has provided caregiver support services through the Chinese Information and Service Center (CISC) for more than two years. CISC is one of 10 organizations in the King County Caregiver Support Network coordinated by Aging and Disability Services—the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County.

King County Caregiver Support Network

The King County Caregiver Support Network helps unpaid caregivers of adults age 18 and older. By helping to reduce caregiver stress, the network enables care receivers to remain at home and independent.

Senior Services

Alzheimer's Association

Chinese Information and Service Center

Evergreen Care Network

Jewish Family Service

Kin On Community Care Network
206-652-2330, ext. 15 or 16

Neighborhood House

Northshore Senior Center

For immediate needs, contact:

Crisis Clinic/King County 2-1-1