Bob Waddell was exhausted.
For years, the Parkside man had been caring for his wife, Marge, as her dementia, likely Alzheimer’s disease, progressed.
“It’s 24-7. It’s all the time, even when you’re sleeping, you have to be attentive,” the retired Grand Island teacher said.
He realized he couldn’t leave his wife alone at all anymore. He needed help.
It is available, and social workers and others who provide services for the elderly and ailing in the Buffalo Niagara region want family caregivers to know there’s no shame in asking for help.
Earlier this week, a North Buffalo woman stabbed her 85-year-old mother to death in her home before taking her own life in a motel room 200 miles away. There’s no way to know what led to the murder-suicide. But the horrific events have all the hallmarks of a totally overwhelmed caregiver who had reached a breaking point.
Social workers say it doesn’t have to be that way.
“A lot of time, it’s pride. They feel guilty,” said Kamaala Robinson, the case management coordinator for People Inc.’s senior services. “You need help. It’s OK to ask for help.”
It’s not at all uncommon for caregivers to feel overwhelmed, whether they’re sons, daughters or spouses of people who can no longer take care of themselves, said Daniel Szewc, the long-term care coordinator for Erie County’s Department of Senior Services.
“They often feel alone and there’s nobody around to help them,” Szewc said.
There are many cases in which the caregiver is “the last remaining person to help with mom and dad,” he said. They’re left to handle everything, from preparing meals, giving baths, helping the parent or spouse get dressed. They may be taking care of their own children and have jobs. At the same time, they’re hesitant to place their loved one in a nursing home but don’t know what else to do.
“All that stuff is piled on top of what the daily life can be,” Szewc said. “It becomes quite a challenge to get everything done.”
But there are many options, Szewc said, and the county, along with many service organizations across the county, can provide some respite for caregivers.
If the situation is an emergency, and you feel like you may harm someone else or yourself, call 911 or Crisis Services, which operates a 24-hour hotline at 834-3131, he said.
But before situations gets that dire, Szewc said a good place to start is to call the county’s Senior Services Department at 858-8526, where a case manager can look for appropriate care that’s affordable to the family, no matter the income.
People Inc., which also offers assistance, can be reached 817-7400.
Middle-income families often feel they can’t afford proper care, but Szewc said the county’s case workers can help. Medicaid often covers at least part of the costs. And, he said, “we have funding through our office that can help with some of those costs as well.”
Among the options for help available to families are people who make home visits to offer respite to caregivers, and adult day care, where caregivers can drop off their loved ones while they work, get errands done and, perhaps most importantly, get some down time.
Szewc said there are many organizations that offer adult day care programs in the county and not enough people are taking advantage of them.
“It’s very underutilized,” he said.
Bob Waddell realized he needed help when his wife started wandering away from their Parkside home.
Once she ended up at the zoo. Another time, she made it all the way to the end of Delaware Park by the Scajaquada Expressway.
It wasn’t easy for Waddell to reach out for assistance.
“I fix my own roof,” Waddell said. “I do all my own stuff. So this was a tough one to admit, I guess.”
A case worker connected Waddell with People Inc., which provides an array of services for seniors. For the past two years, his wife has been going to an adult day care service for people with dementia three days a week and Waddell gets a chance to run errands and do things for himself, like go to the gym or even just read.
“This support is critical to me,” he said.
The nonprofit People Inc. offers a range of services for seniors, from the adult day care program to senior housing. It also has a senior companion program through which volunteers who are 55 and older can come to a home to relieve a caregiver.
Robinson recalled one client who came to her in a state of panic. She had been missing too many days from work to care for her ailing mother and was told by her boss that she could lose her job.
“She was frantic,” Robinson said.
Robinson arranged for the mother to go to an adult day care program two days a week and the woman was able to find a way to work at home two days a week.
In another case, a client had a big family but they all worked and there were certain hours where no one could be home with the elderly relative who was under doctor’s orders to be under 24-hour care. A senior companion was sent to be with him during the hours his family couldn’t.
“There is help for you,” Robinson said. “We are here to relieve those stressors.”
You can’t do it all yourself
Marge Waddell, a retired speech therapist for the Buffalo Public Schools who is now 64, isn’t always sure of where she is.
On Friday, one of her days at the People Inc. center off Delaware Avenue in North Buffalo, she chatted while coloring at a long white table. At first she talked about the coloring pages she had been working on – a heart, a little house and an abstract design – then started to talk about some sort of project she had been working on with some children.
“I think sometimes she thinks this is school,” her husband explained.
Sometimes Marge doesn’t know Bob’s name. A year ago, she introduced herself to her son. And on a recent trip to New York to meet her new granddaughter, she didn’t seem to connect with the baby.
Bob Waddell, also 64, who pays $40 a day for the program, also has made it a point to learn all he can about being a good caregiver. He recently took a six-week course called Powerful Tools for Caregivers, where he learned about everything from health issues to how to care for himself.
“You just have to seek out these things,” he said. “If you’re in my situation, you’ve kind of got to look for support and not try to do it all yourself. You can’t.”
He’s learned he needs to do things for himself, like going to the gym, which the adult day care program allows him to do.
He’s happy to do it for his high school sweetheart.
“She’s the same sweet girl I married,” he said.
At the People Inc. center, Waddell turned to his wife, who was examining one of her coloring pages.
“Hey, sweetie,” he called out. Her face lit up. “Want to get your coat so we can go home and have something to eat?”