Since it’s Black History Month, I decided to go cultural with this post. Being a woman of color, I’ve seen the stigma of many African-Americans when it comes to facing health issues. It’s as if “not knowing” is going to keep away or stop a health crises; the “what-you-don’t-know-won’t-hurt-you” theory, but oh YES, it does. While not every health concern becomes a crisis, I believe it is very important to know the status of your health and should something be wrong, tackle it head on.
So naturally, when African-Americans face Alzheimer’s, there’s even more of a stigma. It’s the initial denial that your loved one may be changing, then as changes become more outward, embarrassment can roll in and thoughts of, “I hope no one is watching or hearing us.” I went through those feelings, very subtly but I admit, I went through feelings of “I wish my mom would remember, why does mom seem to be disengaged from our conversations? How do I get a jump on these things I can’t control?” And even with those things happening right in front of my face, I never thought full onset Alzheimer’s was going to knock at our door, until I started noticing behavioral changes. Mom was so excellent at paying her bills on time and taking her medication, that when things started going awry it was “Hello Pam, I’m Alzheimer’s and I’m here to claim your mother!”
I’m encouraging African-Americans to be proactive in learning about care for your loved ones and care for yourself, especially if you become the caregiver. Those in denial or in a state of the could it be?….move forward in arming yourself with knowledge. As a caregiver there will be many obstacles to tackle when it comes to Alzheimer’s which is why you have to be on top of your self-care and with African-Americans being at a higher risk to have other illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes, it adds to the stress of caregiving which doesn’t make for a very good mix.
I want to share tips, some of my own from personal experience and others I obtained from the Alzheimer’s Association.
Self Care Tips for the African-American Caregiver:
1) Give yourself the oxygen before you can give it someone else. – When you hear on a plane that in times of crisis, to give yourself the oxygen first before you offer it to someone else, that statement couldn’t be truer. You need to take care of your self and your health in order to care for your loved one.
2) If you don’t have a physical support group, it’s still important to have a close friend or relative that you can talk to or dare I say download to, and one who gets what you’re going through and understands. And I say that because, while you may have a friend or relative who says I”m here for you and you can talk to me about anything, you don’t want them to turn around after you start sharing, that you’re burdening them with your feelings and situation. Yikes!
3) Exercise, get moving and eat as healthfully as you can. Good food does a body well and exercise will help with stress levels.
4) Be patient. Even if you’re not a patient person this is the time to learn how to be. You’re role in your loved one’s life is changing. As they become more dependent on you, you’re role changes. There’s more to do, more to learn when it comes to care and finances, just in how to manage your day.
5) Find joy in the small things. Alzheimer’s undoubtably brings so much added and unwanted to stress, I know there were days I couldn’t think straight or see between the tears, but as I had to learn a new way to communicate with my mom, I had to learn to really appreciate and find joy in the small things. You wouldn’t believe how a phone call from a friend, just to ask “how I was doing” made my day-week-month.
6) Understand that as much as you never saw yourself as an advocate (speaking from personal experience) you become one. The extent to which you become one varies from person-to-person, from not at all to deep in the trenches. I never saw myself as an advocate but as my mother was fighting this illness, I had to fight for her and for other caregivers. I knew how tough my journey, there were others worse off than I was or less knowledgeable. If anything I wanted to help other caregivers know they’re not alone and regardless of our financial, cultural or demographic differences we’re all on the same journey.
If you’re African-American caregiver and are reading my post, I pray you are doing the most you can do to learn more about this illness for yourself and for your loved one, but my message resonates for all people regardless of race. Caregiving is colorless.