Every weekday around 4 p.m., Cynthia Moon is at her mother’s house. Her work day is over, but now it’s time to check in on her mother.
She’s there every Saturday morning and Sunday after church. It’s a seven-day-a-week commitment that as the only daughter in the family, she feels she must keep.
Ella Evans, 78, had a stroke 18 years ago and is wheelchair bound. About seven years ago, she started showing symptoms of memory loss.
“I’ve always been her caregiver, paying bills, but sometimes she would forget to turn off the oven or she couldn’t remember how to use the telephone. I thought it was normal aging. I also thought it was residual effect from the stroke, ” Moon said.
It was something more. Ms. Evans was diagnosed with dementia and now her physician says she has Alzheimer’s disease. This year, Moon of Trotwood, noticed a new change in her mom. Even though she said her mom knows she is Cynthia, Ms. Evans has started calling her “mom.”
“This year she went into the hospital and she referred to me as her mom. She kept repeatedly saying I was her mom. She thinks that I am her mom and she doesn’t know,” Moon said.
That word really embodies Moon’s role as a caregiver because she takes care of Ms. Evans like she is one of her children. “I prayed about it and everybody has a purpose for their life. This is my purpose to be here for my mother.”
November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month. More than 16 million people in the United States currently provide unpaid care to a person living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Two thirds of those caregivers are women and one-third of those caregivers are daughters.
Moon said her brothers initially wanted her to put their mother in a nursing home when she had her stroke. “I refused,” Moon said. But with the support of her husband, Moon said she has been able to take on the seven-day a week job of watching over her mother while she works full time as program director of the West Central Ohio Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at Dayton Children’s. “I did it. I did what I had to do. Wife, mother, grandmother and daughter is a lot.”
Moon’s youngest son lives with her mom to provide continuity of care. Ms. Evans also has home care aides that assist.
Moon at times has exhibited the classic caregiver emotions: denial, anger, exhaustion, resentment. “I’ve been married for 21 years. She had her stroke about 18 years ago. Being a newlywed, that was hard for me to juggle being a new wife and caring for my mom. Initially I was resentful for having to care for her. I wanted to live my life.”
“I always feel guilty,” Moon said. “It’s like a double-edge sword because I feel guilty being away from my mom, but I also feel guilty not giving my husband the time he deserves although he says it’s OK. It’s like I am in the middle. I feel torn.”
Taking time for herself is something she reluctantly tries to do. This October she and her husband went on a seven-day cruise. “I was anxious about leaving,” Moon said, “but people kept saying ‘you need a break, she is going to be OK.’”
Moon said, “When I called to check on her she (Ms. Evans) started to cry. That upset me.” As soon as she got back home, she went and checked on her mom.
Ms. Evans is appreciative of Moon’s commitment. “I think it’s beautiful,” she said.
Moon said, looking back, she has done a lot on her own. “There have been times I have broken down, but my husband tells me all the time ‘Cyn just be glad you have a mother.’”
Ms. Evans said, “I feel glad that she is here.”
“I love you.”
Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers
- Find time for yourself. It’s normal to need a break from caregiving duties. Consider taking advantage of respite care or help from family and friends to spend time doing something you enjoy.
- Know available community resources. Contact the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900 to locate dementia care resources in your area.
- Become an educated caregiver. Understanding the disease, its progression and accompanying behavioral and physical changes can help you become a better caregiver.
- Build a Support Network. Organize friends and family who want to help provide care and support. Access local support groups to connect with other caregivers. If stress becomes overwhelming, seek professional help.
- Take care of yourself. Try to eat well, exercise and get plenty of rest. Making sure that you are healthy can help you be a better caregiver.
- Manage stress. Stress can cause physical problems.