In the spring of 2017, Bob Eaton left his full-time nursing job to care for her husband, Philip Kuhne, who had Alzheimer's disease.
"I said, I can do it," he recalls. "I'm a nurse forever, and now I'll take care of a patient? No problem."
Bob, like many others who care for people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, found the job much more difficult than he imagined. Even as someone who had been a healthcare professional for decades, he was surprised by the strain of being a full-time caregiver.
"It was much more than physical," he says, recalling the emotional exhaustion he felt in taking care of his partner for 25 years, especially as Philip's Alzheimer's progressed. Bob says that as a gay caregiver, he felt particularly alone. He and Philip lived in a rural area near Canyon Lake, and said that these feelings were exacerbated by the physical isolation that he also felt.
"He was suffocating," he says.
The Alzheimer's Association reports that there are more than 16 million people providing unpaid care for people with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. The number and need for caregivers will continue to grow as American aging develops brain disorders. There are currently 5.8 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer's, and this number is expected to increase to around 14 million by 2050.
Caring for a person with Alzheimer's or dementia is stressful and can lead to feelings of isolation, like what Bob experienced. It can also lead to anger, sadness and depression, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Caregivers should look for these signs of depression in themselves and make explicit efforts to manage the stress that comes with caring for a loved one.
Reflecting on his experience, Bob recommends that caregivers be placed in support groups and Alzheimer's programs such as the next Alzheimer's Association Caregiver Conference.
"You'll hear your story up there," he says. "You think you are alone, you will understand that you are not and you will feel in the stories."
This year's Caregiver Conference, presented on March 28 by the Texas Capital Capitol, section of the Alzheimer's Association, allows caregivers to ask questions to local professionals and gain access to local resources. The event is free for healthcare professionals and the public.
In addition, Bob also emphasizes the importance of caregivers by relying on the help of others so that they can take care of themselves.
"No matter how much you don't want to leave that person, for your personal health, you need your time," he says.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, caregivers may find themselves with so many responsibilities that they can neglect themselves. The best thing they can do for the person they care for is to stay physically and emotionally strong. This involves regular medical visits, exercise, hiring friends and family on their offers to help and engage in a hobby or activity where caregivers find joy.
Philip died on October 22, 2017. Reflecting on his experience of caring for him, Bob's got this advice for other caregivers. He says it is essential for them to take breaks for "me time" and connect with resources and other caregivers.
"You think you are the only person to cross it," he says. "Knowing that you are not important is important."
The chapter "Capitals of Texas" of the Alzheimer's Association presents its "Conference on caregiver 2019: hope and strength" on Thursday March 28th from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. The conference, which is free to the public, will be at the Jewish Community Center, 7300 Hart Lane, Austin, TX 78731. While the walk-up registration will be available at the conference, please kindly request the phone or online registration for the our planning purposes. You can register by calling 512-592-0990 or by visiting https://action.alz.org/PersonifyEbusiness/Default.aspx?TabID=1357&productId=41826646
The 24-7 line of assistance of the Association Alzheimer's Association is 1-800-272-3900. To find support groups for Austin's Alzheimer's, other programs and information, visit https://www.alz.org/texascapital