In August, my grandmother died. I was blessed to be by her side during her last hours. My grandmother was a wonderful person. She loved her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren very much.
Approximately 15 years ago, my grandmother began to experience multiple small cerebellar infarcts (strokes). During the last 15 years of her life, she experienced continual dizziness and vertigo. She and my grandfather lived alone until his death in 1999. At that time, my parents moved her into their home.
My mother took very good care of my father's mother. However, this became too strenuous when my father became ill and had to be hospitalized. At that time, my father's sister sold her home in another state and moved into my grandmother's home. She then moved my grandmother from my parent's house, back to her own home. My grandmother needed constant supervision. Frequently, she would try to get up alone. She would get dizzy and stumble and sometimes fall. We were very afraid that she would fall and break a hip or something more serious. We never left her alone. One member of the family was always with her. Over the next few years, she would alternate residence with my aunt and my parents. In August, 2001, she was diagnosed with liver cancer and was sent home on hospice to await her death and be with her family.
On the night of my grandmother's death, my aunt called me and asked for my assistance. When I arrived. I saw that my grandmother was obviously getting weaker. I could tell that she would not live much longer. The whole family was called in to see her and say goodbye. One thing my grandmother loved was to have all her children around her, so we all gathered around and sang to her and talked to her. She was too weak to respond but we could tell she heard us.
We were blessed to be at her side when she took her last breath. I called the hospice nurse, and she arrived to help with the terminal care. The peacefulness of being there helped the family to accept her death and to comfort each other. I will never forget the closeness my family felt in being together by her side.
Being a family caregiver takes a significant toll on the individual designated as primary caregiver. Having other family members who are willing to assist in that responsibility lessens the strain felt by the caregiver. Some families are blessed to have supportive members to assist in the care of an elderly relative. However, many families are divided, and the total care falls to one particular person. Nurses must be aware of this and assist the family in finding respite care for the primary caregiver.
Families need assistance for a longer period of time than they usually receive for home health care or other assistance. Whether caregiving is required for 3, 5, or even 20 years, the family needs help coping. As nurses, we need to work with the family to find help to relieve some of the strain caused by being the primary caregiver of an elderly individual.