Each caregiver has their own journey. Caregivers in Our Community share their stories and advice.
From a young age Kathy knew how to take good care of things. She suspects that it was this quality that inspired her career as a nurse, and later helped her when it came time to care for her father and aunt.
Kathy does not necessarily identify herself as a “caregiver” because it is such a familiar role to her. However, no matter how familiar this responsibility may feel to her, being a caregiver still has its challenges.
“With my dad – and the dementia – that’s what’s so challenging,” she explains. “I work part time but I had to cut back because of caregiving. It was getting hard and I couldn’t leave them home all day.”
As a nurse, Kathy says her schedule is flexible but coordinating day-to-day plans requires balance. Luckily, she has help – thanks to her sister, niece, and other family members of her extended family.
Kathy does acknowledge that her experience as a caregiver does come with special and personal joys.
“They are very appreciative and say thank you,” she laughs.
What can seem stressful, like her father placing her keys on a different counter or moving her passport, are moments she laughs about. Even language can have its funny moments.
On a recent trip to Japan, Kathy remembered her father speaking English to the cab driver who did not understand English as much. Her father can speak Japanese but chose not to during the ride, which she thought made for an interesting experience.
And sometimes here in the states, her father will break out in Japanese. The flip-flop can seem like a hiccup, but she smiles at the memory.
Most importantly Kathy advises not stressing out about everything. Especially for caregivers stepping into this role for the first time – unexpectedly or not – “you have to let things go. Don’t keep it bottled up.”
In July of 2012, Cory received a call in the middle of night. His parents’ home was on fire. Thankfully, the neighbors smelled smoke and quickly called for help. Fire crews were able to rescue his parents.
“The house was totally gone,” Cory says. “But the neighbors saved my parents’ lives.”
That fire was the moment he knew his parents needed extra help. “It got to a point where we had to do something. They needed an additional layer of care.”
Cory says his parents were still borderline independent at the time, as they were able to prepare meals for themselves and were somewhat mobile. But slowly, the signs of dementia began to show in both his parents.
After being displaced from the fire, Cory moved his parents to an apartment and eventually to Kei-Ai Los Angeles Healthcare Center.
It was at that facility, he says he saw the Keiro flyers on the wall for seminars on topics ranging from caregiving to dementia.
“I feel very grateful for what’s available to me,” he says. And as a message to other caregivers, Cory can’t stress the importance of reaching out to find help. “The sooner you recognize your loved ones require care – start figuring out a plan instead of waiting. Because it can get overwhelming, but know that there are resources out there.”
About ten years ago, Clifford’s wife Sayo shattered several bones after falling. It was a devastating moment for everyone in the family. Sayo endured several corrective surgeries and developed osteoarthritis. Her recovery was long but she was never alone. Clifford and the family all rallied beside her and credit each other for making the most out of life’s sudden changes.
Clifford’s son Mark says it was an uncharted territory for everyone. “I really want to follow my dad’s example of willingness and openness for this new role.”
For the years that followed, Clifford and his children, Mark and Lauri, gathered as much information as they could on how to care for his wife. They attended Keiro Caregiver Conferences and health events in the community. Together they tried to talk to numerous caregivers, asking for insight on what to expect during their caregiving journey.
“We’re always learning something,” Mark explains. He says that while caregiving can come with its tough times, the rewards can be incredible and powerful.
Just last summer, Clifford and Sayo were able to watch their grandson get married in Hawaii.
That trip was their eleventh since Sayo’s fall. They say after each vacation that it’ll be their last, but Clifford and Sayo prove that it doesn’t have to be the case.
Today, Clifford says he encourages people “to stay healthy.” He makes it a point to exercise and do whatever you need to “keep your body in check.”
“My dad was a smoker for 50 years…and one day after a doctor visit, my dad quit cold turkey,” Mark says. It’s a decision he is proud of his father for making.
“The doctor said I would have to take all of these pills, but no more!” Clifford now walks every day instead of smoking. He visits Sayo, who recently moved to an assisted living facility. And on occasion he sings at a Hawaiian restaurant for karaoke night – he says that this is what keeps his spirit healthy.
When asked if she is a caregiver, Lynne is quick to say yes. She even adds that she is part of the sandwich generation of caregivers, meaning Lynne cares for her own family as well as her mother.
Lynne’s 86-year-old mother has dementia. Her father passed in November 2018 and her brother lives in Seattle, leaving her as the primary caregiver. And that role for Lynne can sometimes feel incredibly stressful.
Between working full time and caregiving, Lynne says “it’s a learning process and there’s a learning curve.” In the beginning, caring for her dad who suffered from a stroke was overwhelming for her and her mother. But over time with the help of different community organizations like Keiro, she says she was able to connect with meaningful resources.
“Yes, it can still be overwhelming experience but resources are available. And not just for those receiving care but also for caregivers themselves.”
“I really think caregiver support is important and I hope I can find more because I work full time,” Lynne explains.
She says taking the time to give herself a break is a method of self-care she hopes to exercise moving forward.
“Oh, one really big piece of advice I give to new caregivers is to try to think of something positive about yourself and the person you’re caring for.” Lynne explains that when her mother becomes upset about a situation, she sometimes opens a photo album and talks to her mom about happy memories. “It seems like a distraction but we’re talking about good memories and she’s okay.”
And as the springtime months continue, Lynne says her mother is really happy watching the flowers bloom outside their house. Lynne believes she will definitely find time to care for herself while continuing to learn about how to better help both her mother and herself.