Amy Cotton loved nursing long before she entered the profession. Cotton’s grandmother, Clarice Gooch Hoyt, a nurse in Downeast Maine who made house calls on horseback, was a constant source of inspiration. Cotton calls her “a pioneer.”
Before there was public health nursing in Washington County, Hoyt used to provide nursing care to seasonal immigrant workers and elderly in the region. After moving to Bangor in the 1940s, she provided private duty home nursing care for many elderly community members.
“I have a tape of her talking about her life as a nurse and all the things she did,” said Cotton, nurse practitioner and director of operations and senior service quality for EMHS Continuum of Care. “She was helping others until her health wouldn’t allow her to do so, then my mother stepped in to help her.” Sadly, Clarice Gooch Hoyt passed away in 1993.
“She lived with my mother and I was able to witness the impact that caregiving had on my mom,” said Cotton.
While family caregiving has many rewards, there can also be challenges.
“The combined stress of working outside the home and caring for an elderly relative can take a toll on the caregiver’s own health,” said Cotton. “Caregivers often feel like they have to do it all when in reality the responsibilities can be shared with family, friends and community resources.”
Sharing the responsibilities with others can prevent caregiver burnout. It also can be a gift to other family members who, through helping and sharing duties, will have the chance to reconnect with the senior and perhaps strengthen or ignite a familial bond. Sometimes family members don’t offer to help because they don’t know how or exactly what to do to make a difference.
You can help your extended family understand the responsibilities of caregiving by giving those interested a list of what you need. Then, when someone offers help, you will have concrete tasks at hand.
Take a step back and assess your current situation at face value. What is your life like now? How has it changed since you started caregiving? How can you make it work for you? Are you carving out time for yourself, which is especially critical for long-term caregivers?
Think about getting detailed information on your loved one’s condition whether an illness or simply frailty and complications from aging. Knowledge is power and once you understand the situation fully, you can make decisions more easily. As your confidence grows, you will have less stress as a caregiver.
Familiarize yourself with community resources, for example Eastern Area Agency on Aging’s Family Caregiver Program. You may be surprised at the wealth of information at your fingertips.
Again, ask for help, from everyone. It’s kind of a Maine thing to want to go it alone. This is no time to play tough. Caregiving is hard and to do it successfully and with the most benefit for the senior, you need to assemble your team.
There are caregiving classes offered on a regular basis as well as support groups. Take advantage of opportunities to learn from others who have experience in and knowledge of caregiving.
And most of all be kind and gentle with yourself. You will make mistakes and will not be the perfect caregiver, just as you were not the perfect parent, daughter, son, wife, husband of friend. It’s OK.
Amy Cotton would approve. She understands on a personal and professional level how important caregiving truly is and enjoys helping seniors and their families whenever she can.
“I love what I do,” she said. “I have the world’s best job. And I hope I make my grandmother proud.”
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, or log on EAAA.org.