From Where I Sit
“There are four kinds of people in this world: those who have been
caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers,
those who will need caregivers.” — former first lady Rosalynn Carter
by Dan Fish
The dry statistics confirm that of the
44 million caregivers in the United
States more than 14 million are men.
Many of my clients are the husband’s
of women who are suffering from
Alzheimer’s disease. And they tell me
that they are shouldering the burden
of care giving alone. They are usually
men in their 70’s or 80’s.
Look In My Eyes
The first thing I do in a meeting
with a new client is to look at his
eyes. Most of my clients obviously
have not been sleeping. This may
be caused by being awakened
innumerable times during the
night or by the general anxiety of
prolonged care giving.
I assess this stress level first because
there is no way that I can possibly
impart legal information to someone
who is not able to concentrate due
to sleep deprivation.
I also am concerned because current
medical research has demonstrated
that the caregiver is at an
enormously increased risk of cardiac
disease or stroke due to the stress
of chronic care giving. In addition,
they are more likely to suffer purely
physical ailments from the task of
helping a person with dementia out
of bed or a bath tub.
My first meeting may be a
recommendation that the caregiver
take better physical care of himself so
he can continue to properly care for
The Superman Complex
When I gently suggest a privately
paid home care worker for respite,
the reaction is often the same:
“I do not need that care, no one
can care for my wife the way that
I can.” They confide that they
believe accepting any help would
be an admission of a short coming.
In addition, they do not want the
intrusion of having a stranger in the
home. I remind him that failure to
follow this advice can set the stage
for both spouses to be ill. I tell my
care giving husbands they have to be
a little bit selfish and take some time
for themselves (go for a walk, to a
movie or a concert). They will come
back stronger and be able to sustain
the care giving role for a longer
period of time.
When a family member is ill it is
common for there to be frequent
inquiries into the health and
condition of the Alzheimer’s patient.
Forgotten in many cases is the health
and condition of the caregiver. No
one asks the caregiver “How are you
A Crisis Driven Practice
The elder law practice is a crisis
driven practice. Clients reach out for
help when there is an emergency
such as a hospitalization or a fall.
Little advance planning has been
done. There may be no power of
attorney, health care proxy, living will
or last will and testament in place.
There is a need for an immediate
course of action. But, no action plan
can be implemented if the caregiver
is overwhelmed. The well being of
the caregiver must be addressed first.