Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Burden Interview: Of Mothers, Caregivers, Sons and Daughters

"You're better at it," wrote my brother in an email after I complained that he wasn't doing anything for our elderly mom while I was doing everything. 

His words still sting like a bumble bee.

Was that really supposed to appease me, or my primary care physician who was becoming extremely concerned as my blood pressure was rising higher and higher and higher and I was becoming pre-diabetic from lack of physical exercise? Or was it supposed to provoke?

Add to that the layer that he, my brother, lived only 20 minutes away from our mother, while I lived 300 miles away. 

A Boston-based 2012 study indicated that daughters, twice as often as sons, become the elderly mother's caretakers. But still, sons comprise up to 30% of those care giving for elderly parents.  In Canada up to 30% of those caring for elderly parents are sons, shows a Canadian study. The "elderly parents" are usually mothers, since women generally outlive men. 

While the men in the Canadian study indicated positives as well as negatives in caretaking, they still assumed that responsibility. Married men generally had the support of their wives, with whom they discussed decisions they were making. 

So how does it get to be the daughter living six hours away becomes the primary caretaker when the son, living 20-25 minutes away, does virtually nothing? And what repercussions does this have on my, the caretaker by default, health, finances, social life and emotional well-being?

After another email months later to my brother in which I outlined everything I'd been doing vis a vis my mom and the toll it was taking on me, his response was "Thanks."

Mine back was was "I don't want your thanks. I want your help."

While I could never anticipate my mother's declining cognitive, and physical, condition, I also could never anticipate that I would get absolutely no help or support from my "bro" or support from my sister-in-law, receiving instead just the meek justification for why it was that he was totally defaulting on the small things, including asking for information about her current health, and the very large and major things and decisions.

The word "burden" is used repeatedly in all studies about adult children as caretakers of elderly and frail parents.  And it completely amazed me that there is something actually called "The Burden Interview," which I discovered on an online search.

This discovery was a true relief, and I gladly read the questions and circled my answer, recognizing so many aspects of what the questions addressed. Twenty of the 22 questions on the Zarit Burden Interview begin "Do you feel....."  or "Do you feel that..." One question begins "Are you afraid about..." and the last and 22nd question begins, "Overall, how burdened to you feel..."  Answers ranged from Never (score of zero) to Nearly Always (score 5).  I wish that the question "Do you feel that your health has suffered because of your involvement with your relative?" should score a 5 and that my doctor's feelings about this should add in a bonus 5 points. Feelings are big in this test.

Test takers have 30 minutes for this test. Mine took much less, let's not say how much less. Then I added up my score. Yup! "Moderate to Severe Burden."

The one question that I'd like to see the questionnaire ask is: "Do you feel angry at other family members who are doing less than you are?" or "Do you feel that other family members should be doing a better job at caring for your relative?"

I do, and I do. I wish the Burden Interview asked these questions because the complete lack of participation in my mother's caregiving by the person geographically closest to her adds a lot of stress too.
When one family member is clearly dis-involved, and wants to dis-involved, there is no communication that is going to get you the understanding, and the help, that you want. There is no way to go but to accept that and let go. To do otherwise would be to increase ones emotional stress, and therefore burden and the consequences of that. 

"Anger deprives the sage of his wisdom, a prophet of his vision," says the Talmud.  More conversations, more attempts to get somebody to see your distress or point of view would end in just more frustration, and disappointment, and a self-destructive cycle of anger.

CARETAKERS of ELDERLY PARENTS: How many others like me are there out there? I would guess I'm not the only one. 
It's often repeated how commonly families break up over money, especially after the death of a parent and the distribution of the estate.

Or, in this case, they functionally and emotionally break up long before. And when that's the case, don't hang on and let it raise your BURDEN SCORE even more!!