Oct. 15, 2001 -- Don E. Duckett, Ralph Eikenberry, Gary Barg,
and Paul Lindsley have never met, yet they have walked in each others' shoes.
They are all caregivers for a wife or relative.
The National Family Caregivers Association says that results of
a recent survey it conducted suggest that about one in four American adults
served as caregiver for a family member in the last year. The best current
estimate is that 22 million Americans are family caregivers, and of those about
one in five are men.
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Don E. Duckett cares for his wife who was diagnosed in 1996
with Pick's dementia, a type of rapidly progressing dementia that usually is
diagnosed in middle-aged people. Duckett's wife was 56 when she was
"From the time of diagnosis patients usually live for five
to seven years," Duckett tells WebMD. But during those years the patient
becomes progressively more confused, frustrated, and angry. Memory fails, the
patient can no longer bathe or dress himself or herself. They become
incontinent. "Incontinent. When she was diagnosed, I didn't even know what
incontinence was," says Duckett.
Eventually communication stops and the patient becomes silent.
"My wife stopped talking a year ago," says Duckett. "I can't tell
if she needs something, or if she is ill or in pain."
Sometimes All You Can Do Is Cheer
For Ralph Eikenberry, life as a caregiver is different. In his
home in Forrest Village, Wash., Eikenberry, 74, tackles his share of the
household cleaning tasks, while in the background his wife Margie, also 74,
practices with her Hawaiian dance troupe, the Forrest Village Tutus. Eikenberry
says he likes to watch the women dance because it gives him the opportunity to
cheer on his wife's efforts because "so far caregiving for me is being a
Margie Eikenberry was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease four
years ago. "It was a terrible shock for both us because we had both been
remarkably healthy," says Eikenberry. When the shock subsided, Eikenberry,
like Duckett, sought out information and support. For him the major resource
has been the Parkinson's Foundation. "It recently came out with a guidebook
for Parkinson's caregivers, and that is very helpful. We also have a
Parkinson's center at our local hospital, and that is a good resource,"
Although Eikenberry's caregiving responsibilities have not
progressed to the stage described by Duckett, he says that it is still a full
time job. For example, the couple takes a daily two-mile walk. "If I notice
that Margie's gait is not right I will tell her to lengthen her stride,
increase her arm swing," says Eikenberry.
Isolation and Loneliness Are Common
For Duckett, the most difficult aspect of his role as caregiver
is the total isolation. "This encompasses both the person afflicted and the
person who cares. One is not able to get out and mingle in society. Friends
don't come around anymore."