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When David Hoshaw received a phone call from his mother’s doctor, he wasn’t sure what to think.

His mother, Muriel, was forgetting to take her medications, and she needed help. She was in the early stages of dementia.

As Muriel’s only living child, the responsibility fell to David.

He unexpectedly found himself a part of a growing group of adults belonging to the baby boomer generation who are now caring for an aging parent or family member.

According to a 2020 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 “boomers” act as caregivers. The study showed that more than half of baby boomer caregivers provided care for longer than 2 years, and more than one-quarter provided care for 20 hours or more per week.

David found himself in both categories and has now lived full-time with his mother for more than 4 years.

Importantly, the CDC survey also found that caregivers often put their own health on the back burner as they focus their care on the family member in need.

Below, David shared how he navigates his new role and keeps his own health a priority in spite of his caregiving responsibilities.

After receiving the initial call from Muriel’s doctor, David and his wife, Darlene, spent a couple of weeks deliberating before they landed on a plan of action.

Their decision? To move from Southern California to the Kitsap Peninsula of Washington state, where Muriel lived alone.

“I couldn’t help her from 1,200 miles away,” said David. “I had been in business for 30 years in Southern California, and my wife and I were empty-nesters. We were ready for a change.”

The couple set about making arrangements to relocate and were Washington state residents within a year and a half.

And not a moment too soon.

Just days before their arrival, Muriel fell in the bathtub and couldn’t get up. She hadn’t been taking her diabetes medication, and her blood sugar was through the roof.

She called for help and was found by her neighbors, who took her to the hospital. David and Darlene expedited their trip and arrived a few days later to find Muriel weak and disoriented.

“I didn’t expect to see my mother like that,” said David. “It took her a few weeks to get her fluids balanced to where she started to understand what had happened and where she was.”

Muriel was eventually transferred to a rehabilitation facility to recover. That’s when the real work started for David.

While Muriel was being cared for, he and his wife set about clearing the house of clutter. Muriel had accumulated extra furniture, stacks of newspapers, and expired canned goods that filled her home and garage.

According to a 2019 study, this type of hoarding behavior is well-documented in people with certain types of dementia.

Next came hurdles with insurance. Prior to her diagnosis, Muriel had purchased an insurance plan that covered assisted living, telling loved ones she didn’t want to be a burden in her old age.

However, when a nurse filled out the insurance forms improperly, her claims were denied.

“The cost of the assisted living home was about $500 per day,” said David. “We ended up paying about $20,000 out of pocket for the time she spent there that the insurance wouldn’t cover.”

Once the house was decluttered and put in working order, Muriel was able to come home.

That’s when David and Darlene officially assumed the role of caregivers, administering Muriel’s medications each morning and feeding her breakfast and lunch.

They enlisted help from an in-home care service in the evenings to monitor Muriel as she took her insulin, feed her dinner, and keep her company. This allowed David and Darlene the time to tackle other important tasks, such as getting Muriel’s finances in order.

It had been several years since she’d paid taxes, and Muriel owed the IRS tens of thousands of dollars. She’d also run up a balance on a credit card and had only been paying the minimum due.

After a lot of paperwork, phone calls, bureaucracy, and creative problem-solving, David and Darlene were able to get everything on repayment plans that they’re still managing 4 years later.

Another major task was cleaning up Muriel’s diet.

Before she was admitted to the hospital, Muriel’s fridge had been full of fruit-flavored yogurts that were high in sugar and likely to spike her glucose.

With David around, she started eating whole foods and fewer carbohydrates, something he noticed improved her moods and mental clarity.

In fact, a 2021 review noted that several small-scale human studies have shown cognitive benefits in dementia after intervention with a ketogenic diet.

Her doctor noticed too, dropping her required insulin intake from 13 units nightly to only five.

If left to her own devices, however, Muriel would sneak multiple pieces of fruit on an empty stomach and spike her blood sugar. David and his wife learned to be proactive about feeding her regular, well-rounded meals and keeping fruit and sweets up and out of reach.

Without question, becoming his mother’s caregiver upended David’s previous life. Still, he shares, there have been unexpected benefits along with all the changes.

“Before the move, my mother and I weren’t that close,” he said. “She’s always been very independent.”

Aside from living 1,200 miles apart, they had had their disagreements over the years. Now, under the same roof for the first time since his childhood, David said he’s become closer to his mother.

“I’ve had to take on the responsibility, and she sees that. She’s grateful that we’re here because, even though she doesn’t always like it, she knows she needs us,” he said.

Caregiving can involve major sacrifices, lifestyle changes, and sometimes — like in David’s case — relocating entirely.

It’s essential to prioritize caring for yourself as a caregiver as much as it is to care for the loved one in need.

Here are a few ways David prioritizes his own care while he balances his caregiving role.

Eat when they eat

Instead of making special meals for the person you care for, consider making your meals together.

When David put his mother on a ketogenic diet, he leaned in and started eating that way too.

This means their household does less meal prep (and cleanup) than they would if everyone was eating different things at different times.

Get lots of rest

A good night’s sleep can do wonders.

According to a 2016 review, up to 76% of adult caregivers reported poor sleep quality. Poor quality sleep was also associated with higher rates of depression, fatigue, and anxiety.

If you experience sleep disturbances like frequently waking or difficulty falling asleep, talk with your doctor about options for getting the rest you need.

If your rest is disrupted because the person you care for wakes frequently and needs attention, you might consider using a baby monitor so you don’t have to get out of bed to check on them.

You can also explore the possibility of sharing night shifts with another caregiver or taking daytime naps to fight fatigue.

Stay active

On sunny days, Muriel goes for a walk with her in-home helpers. David does his own form of exercise, whether Zoom yoga classes, mountain biking, or hitting the gym at the local YMCA.

You can even exercise alongside the person you care for. According to a 2021 review, caregivers who exercised with their care recipient experienced improvements in both psychosocial and physical health.

Connect to community

David gets the opportunity to connect to his local community by coaching a children’s mountain bike team.

After 30 years as a real estate broker in California, he’s continued running his business in Washington as well.

This gives him the opportunity to stay involved rather than becoming isolated while caring for his mother.

Take vacations if you can

David and his wife, Darlene, take frequent trips when they’re able. To allow this, they enlist the help of local family members or hire in-home caregivers temporarily.

This gives them the opportunity to have time together alone, without the responsibility of caring for Muriel.

Maintain hobbies

Along with mountain biking, David enjoys gardening, yoga, and staying involved in his business.

Having hobbies is a great way to maintain a sense of identity, enjoy leisure time, and flex your creativity as a caregiver. In some cases, you may be able to share your hobbies with your care recipient, too.

Share responsibilities when possible

David is lucky to have his wife to lean on so caregiving responsibilities don’t fall squarely on his shoulders. He also calls on local family and in-home helpers when he and Darlene need a break.

Of course, not all caregivers have those options. Whatever your circumstances, it’s important to reach out to friends, family, and local support early and often to avoid caregiver burnout.

Get support

In addition to the above, it’s essential for caregivers to feel supported as they provide care to others.

You can reach out to a professional therapist to talk about your experience, get advice, or get connected to necessary resources.

Many caregivers also benefit from caregiver support groups. These are an opportunity to share with others going through the same thing, as well as cultivate friendly relationships outside of the formal support group.

Caregiving is a major responsibility. It’s essential to find ways to cope with your role and care for yourself too.

Like David, you may find that along with the unexpected role, your life is enriched in unexpected ways too.