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Guest Post: A Family Caregiver’s Review of the Book: “Caregiving with Strength”

Following is a guest post, a book review written by family caregiver, Rossella Polera on Caregiving with Strength:

There is a growing awareness today of the burden borne by those who care for family members with chronic conditions. Until recently, little attention was paid to these tireless individuals. But Eleanor Silverberg has long been aware of the responsibilities shouldered by those outside the health care system, and has translated her experience as a social worker assisting sufferers of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease into an eminently readable, insightful and useful book.

I first met Eleanor when she worked with the Alzheimer Society. My mother had been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Because my father was unable to cope with her diagnosis and behaviour and my siblings lived too far away to help out on a regular basis, I found myself becoming a caregiver to my parents. Eleanor helped us navigate the unfamiliar waters of the health care system. She listened, assessed and assisted us. We were fortunate to have found a caring, compassionate and experienced social worker.

Other medical crises followed, and my parents were forced to sell their home and move to a long-term care residence. Once they were in long-term care, Eleanor and I lost touch. A chance meeting in a grocery store led to a discussion about the difficulties of caregiving and my admission that my visits with my parents left me emotionally drained and incredibly sad. I couldn’t understand why, since my rational mind understood that my parents were where they needed to be. It was Eleanor’s observation that led to my “eureka” moment: of course I was sad and emotionally drained! I was grieving. But how could this be, I wondered aloud. My parents were still alive. As Eleanor explained, although they were still alive, disease had changed them. Our traditional roles of parent and child had been reversed. I had suffered a loss.

Until that point, I had been able to recognize only my parents’ losses — the loss of their home, of their independence, of their mobility, of their pride and dignity and, in my mother’s case, the loss of the memory of the many experiences that had made her the person I knew and loved. Eleanor pointed out my loss as well and, with her assessment, I was able to acknowledge my personal loss as distinct from that of my parents, assess my own situation, and find ways to assist myself.

I am profoundly grateful to Eleanor for this insight, and this is precisely what she covers in her book. She elaborates, expands and explains, with examples, quotes and pictures of caregivers and their loved ones, each part of the 3-A approach: Acknowledge,Assess, Assist. Should you unexpectedly find yourself in the position of caregiver, this is a book you should read — if only for purely selfish reasons. It gives you permission to shift the focus from the “sick” person to yourself, forcing you to recognize your situational loss, to acknowledge that you also need help, and to assist yourself just as you assist your loved one(s).

Caregiving with Strength delivers exactly what its title implies. For those struggling with the demands of caregiving and for those professionals who assist them, it provides a road map for the rocky journey none of the travellers planned to take — the only caveat being that you must be willing to ask for directions.

Rosella Polera provided care and support to her mother and father for several years, meeting any challenges she faced with devout dedication right up to the time they passed away.

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