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Life Lessons: Taking care of the caregiver

By Nancy Werteen, Anchor / Reporter, NWerteen@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 25 2013 11:00:00 PM CDT

Life Lessons Taking care of the caregiver

Studies show in one of every three households, at least one of the members is a caregiver.

They’re looking after someone who can’t fully take care of himself. In some cases, it’s a temporary disability. In other cases, it’s a progressive disability, like Alzheimer’s. In many, it is terminal.

Experts say caregivers are under a tremendous amount of stress that can lead to depression and anxiety. They remind all of us to reach out to help caregivers take care of their loved one and themselves.

Dr. Patrick Niebauer, is a psychotherapist who recently put together a seminar at an assisted living facility in Allentown about caring for the caregiver. He says the issues caregivers face are complex because there are usually many emotions involved.

Dr. Niebauer says, "I think they need to be kind to themselves and make sure they know the signs of their own stress."

Ursula Daichendt still remembers dancing to the German music she grew up with. It's something she and her husband Mark have always enjoyed.

Surrounded by wedding photos, pictures of their children and other cherished items, 53-year-old Ursula lives at Woodland Terrace at the Oaks in Allentown instead of the couple's home in Lower Macungie.

Ursula has early onset Parkinson's. Her condition deteriorated so much, it became impossible for Mark to care for her at home any longer.

Ursula was first diagnosed more than a decade ago. Mark has been a caregiver for many years. He says learning as much as he could about his wife's condition helped him to manage his own feelings.

"Education for yourself first is best because if you kind of understand what's causing the changes, then you don't necessarily take it personally," says Mark.

Just down the hall at Woodland Terrace, Rose Krampen of Bethlehem often visits her mother, Rosemary. The two have a natural affection for each other as they joke about Rosemary's love of casinos.

Rosemary has been at the facility for about a year. Rose says she tried to care for her mother on her own, but her mother's medical needs, including dementia, made it very difficult for both women. Rose finally realized she needed help.

Her advice to other caregivers? "Take time for yourself. I didn't do that for a year. I started to feel not happy with myself, not happy with my mother. I wasn't me."

Dr. Patrick Niebauer says stress for a caregiver can be emotional problems like depression or physical problems brought on by neglecting themselves.

He adds that many caregivers are of advanced age which also makes the situation more difficult. He says these folks need support: " The old saying you can't take care of someone else unless you take care of yourself, there's a lot of truth to that."

Mark Daichendt says he did the best as he could for as long as he could, but eventually his wife's needs became more than he could handle.

Mark says, "You have to balance what you can do and how long you can do it."

Experts say caregivers need to understand that it's okay to ask for help and to admit if they just can't do it alone anymore. They say there are many organizations that can help and offer support.

For more information try www.caregivers.org.