Don’t go it alone, if you’re a caregiver
Claire and Henry Tousignant of Centerville were once avid square dancers.
“We were really absorbed by it,” recalled Henry, 93.
The couple, who were married in 1946 when Henry returned from World War II, danced three or four times a week.
But those days are no longer. Henry is now caregiver to Claire, who, following a stroke, suffers from dementia and loss of memory.
“It’s a twenty-four-seven job. I call it a job, but it’s not a job, I mean I love the girl,” said Henry.
Job or not, it’s no easy task. Claire may get up three or four times in the night, and requires constant care and supervision.
“You’re tired all the time, but you just chug along,” Henry said. “They keep telling me that at 93 I shouldn’t be doing these things.”
For the past four years, Henry has turned for help to a men’s support group organized by Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands. The meetings, held two mornings a week at the Barnstable Senior Center, are usually attended by six to eight other caregivers, along with a leader, Frank Riley.
At first, Henry was reluctant to go. His unwillingness, he said, was simply fear of starting something new. It was like trying to get others to learn square dancing.
“Did you ever try to get someone to try square dancing? To get someone to go and do that is very difficult, you get all kinds of excuses. It’s great but there’s always something that prevents you.” he said.
Being a caregiver is like learning the complicated steps of a square dance, observed Henry. “No one knows what to do until you’re taught how to do it.”
At the support group meetings, Henry discusses his problems, learns about resources available to him, and gains vital information, like how to have a ramp built so Claire can get down the steps from the house to the garage.
He also learns what to expect next as his wife moves through the progressive stages of dementia.
“I think it’s almost a necessity, it’s an education,” he said.
Unfortunately, many men in Henry’s position resist joining such groups, said Paul Wild, contracts and customer service manager at Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands.
“People hesitate to ask for outside help, they feel everyone needs to make it on their own,” he said.
There is a “terrible need” for these types of programs for men, he said. They are more inclined to discuss caregiving issues with other men.
To be a good caretaker, you must first take of yourself, he said. He compares it to the advice you get on an airplane. You put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help someone else.
Trying to go it alone can result in caregivers becoming exhausted, overwhelmed and depressed, and not taking care of themselves, Wild said. The warning signs are anger, overreacting to a small slight, and stress, he said.
Other Caregiver Services
Elder Services is part of a network of nonprofit agencies throughout the state that contracts with 50 provider agencies, organizations and companies that provide services to caregivers and other elderly residents, ranging from respite care to Meals On Wheels. The services are subsidized by the Commonwealth.