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Caring For An Elderly Relative Is Effecting Your Health

Pandemic or no pandemic, caring for an older relative in their home or yours) is effecting your own health. The thing is, if your focus is on the needs of Mom or Dad or Auntie Jean, you’re probably not keeping proper track of how you are feeling and functioning. And you’re probably feeling lousy…

Doc & Patient Chat - © southcoast.orgAsk your doctor if you’ve been working too hard looking after an older family member…

It doesn’t matter whether you’re 25 or 65; if you’re acting as a full-time caregiver for an older relative – especially one with special needs, you’re probably ruining your own health if you’re not keeping track of your own needs and deficiencies from day to day. The most insidious part is, you are probably unaware of the gradual deterioration of your own condition, wrapped up as you are in the care of your ‘charge’.

Rude wakening

I had my first-ever ‘telehealth’ telephone doctor appointment earlier this week. True to form, it wasn’t (at least initially, anyway) about me. It was about something that was ailing Mother.

After the doctor and I had dispensed with the issue involving Mother, she asked, casually, “And how are you feeling?”

I made what I immediately thought was a mistake and told the truth. I didn’t want her to think I wasn’t capable of performing due diligence in my custodial duties. “I’m getting along,” I admitted.

“Just getting along?” Doctor L. jumped on my murky response. “How do you mean, ‘getting along’?”

“Oh, you know…

“No, I don’t,” she said firmly. “But we need to know. You could headed for a breakdown and not realize it!”

“Oh, that,” I joked. “It’s like living in a nut house around here every day, as it is. I’m used to it.”

“Sounds worse than I thought,” said Dr. L.

The nitty gritty

She explained that she didn’t mean just emotionally, but emotionally and physically both, and together. One’s state of mind can effect one’s physical health just as one’s bodily health can effect one’s mental state.

She rattled off a list of possible symptoms and I stammered back my answers in single-syllable grunts.

“You’re sick,” she wasted no time in ‘assuring’ me. One of the things we had talked abut earlier, in connection with Mom, was the need for adequate vitamins and minerals, and so on. “You must be short on a whole list of essential nutrients, yourself,” the doc told me. “While you’re pouring your Mom a Boost (or Ensure or whatever; my choice) for lunch, you should pour one for yourself.”

“But I’m not tuning 96 in two weeks,” I snarked back. The doc and I both knew Mother would be crossing the threshold of 96 in just 11 days. But I was insulted by the implication that I was getting old and infirm, too.

“Seriously,” she insisted. “You’ve just told me you don’t have the time to make fully-balanced breakfasts, lunches or suppers a lot of times through your average week. You’re serving more and more prepared meals, containing a lot of processed ingredients and preservatives and artificial colours and flavours. Not to mention empty calories. And probably too much alcohol, as usual.”

The Empire fights back

“It’s just a stop-gap,” I protested. You know I’m a trained Chef and entirely capable of feeding my family properly. It’s this damned pandemic and Mother’s generally ugly disposition as a result…”

“Sure,” the doc said, in tones that conveyed doubt rather than reassurance. “Your powers of concentration and focus are suffering. And you’re feeling increasingly weak and tired and emotionally low. And you’re complaining of occasional sore, swollen lower legs and feet, and irregularity, and papery skin. And your chronic lower back pain is acting up on you more and more regularly. And you say you’re not getting enough sleep…”


“And your balance is suffering, and your vision is occasionally blurry and unsteady,” she went on as if she didn’t hear me. “Sleeping more and enjoying it less…”

Hitting all the buttons

“Okay. I admit it. You’re hitting all the hot buttons,” I sighed. Well, if a Boost now and then will help, I won’t bitch, moan and complain too much that it costs $2 a bottle.”

“It’s more than just that. You need more variety in your diet, with more fresh ingredients. Remember the new Food Guide: half a plate of fresh Fruits and Veggies at supper. A quarter plate of Protein, and a quarter plate of Whole grains, too. What you serve doesn’t have to be fancy, or innovative or ‘different’ every night.”

“Alright, alright,” I conceded defeat; failure, if you will. “I’ll try my best…”

The doc shamed me with me the ‘full Yoda’: “Do or not do! There is no try!”


“I want to talk to you in a few weeks and see how your’re doing,” Dr. L. mandated  me. ” I expect to hear good news…”

The bottom line

Well, it’s for Mom as well as for me. I’ve recently been feeling I’ve been nearing the edge of a precipice over which lies permanent damage or even doom. I’ll make the necessary preparations and set the wheels in motion as instructed. And hope for a good report card in a month…

All for now. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

~ Maggie J.