When John Galbraith, 66, began caring for his ailing partner of 30 years, he was unaware of the toll caring for her would take on his own health. Focusing on her constant care landed him in the hospital last year.
Now 85, Sally Rivera’s memory and health declined slowly over the past 10 years after her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Yet, she was able to function and knit, something she had always enjoyed.
Last year, she reached a turning point and her health began to decline drastically. She was once able to shower on her own or accompany Galbraith to the store. Now, she needed extensive help. She stopped doing many beloved activities. She even forgot how to knit.
“She needed help doing everything,” Galbraith explained. “From teeth brushing, hand washing, to having her adult diapers changed.”
Galbraith worked tirelessly. That was until it become too much. Rivera was taken to Henry Mayo’s ER. At the same time, he was admitted to the hospital.
“Because of advances in science, we keep people alive longer,” explained Dr. Gene Dorio, Rivera’s doctor and longtime Geriatric Specialist in Santa Clarita. “But it isn’t easy for caregivers to deal with all the work.”
Galbraith was in the hospital for four days, treated for total exhaustion, dehydration and anemia. He had lost more than 40 pounds and was weak.
“Without realizing it, I was going sideways,” he explained. “Not to the degree she was, but it was serious.”
A Common Problem
Caregivers are an integral part of existence for adults who are ailing. In many cases, the families caring for their loved ones don’t have nursing services.
“This is a 24-7-365 situation and the caregiver feels responsible,” explained Dorio, who has run a house-call practice for 30 years. “I tell caregivers they will get burned out. They have to bring in others to help.”
Dorio recommends enlisting family members and outside nursing services. The Santa Clarita Senior Center offers Adult Day Care. Caregivers can bring family members who need care and supervision to the center for five hours a day.
“This gives the family respite and time to care for their own needs,” explained Suzanne Nelson, director for support services at the Senior Center. “It also gives the participant a time to socialize and stimulation.”
For those suffering from memory conditions, they may not remember what they are for breakfast, but they still want to be social and do things, explained Nelson.
The Adult Day Care is a licensed social day care. It provides social and supervision needs, but is not licensed to administer medicine. It offers support groups for caregivers on Fridays and individual counseling for families.
“Bringing a loved one here doesn’t mean you love them any less,” said Nelson. “It can be a lifesaver for everyone.”
Turning things around
Galbraith knew he needed to get help. He began researching Medicaid and in-home nursing. Rivera would stay in post-acute care for several months, but finally returned home this summer and when she did, Galbraith was ready.
He had a team of 5-6 people to help seven days a week. He hired wound care specialist, physical therapists, and Dr. Dorio makes regular house calls to ensure both Rivera and Galbraith are doing well.
He also learned to practice self-care. Galbraith realized, if he isn’t well, there is little he can do to help Rivera. A clean diet, good sleep, and regular exercise have become priorities. He’s an avid jogger and hiker.
“I realized when you do this full-time you get fatigued,” he said. “I don’t’ have to do everything myself. I can get help. Now, I oversee all the caregivers.”
He also learned two important lessons. Get organized and don’t take no for an answer. He rearranged her supplies to be easily at-hand and uses home delivery. When he is working with resource programs, like MediCal and In-Home Support Services (IHSS), he fights to get the care Rivera needs.
“Always stay positive and get the outside help you need,” explained Galbraith. “You don’t have to do it all yourself.”