By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
Renee Haines has three family members with a disability. For starters, she gave birth in 1985 to a son born missing an arm below-elbow.
In a telephone interview, the 53-year-old mother from Westminster, Maryland, said, “My son Matt was the only child for which I had a sonogram. Either the doctors didn't see (the missing arm) or they decided not to tell me.” Recently, Matt graduated from college and has a good job. On the side, amazingly, he has been a drummer in a music group for years, now playing only small venues. His mother said people over the years sometimes responded to his disability by giving him more chances at tasks or being more lenient with him.
In addition, Haines' brother was diagnosed with a form of bipolar disorder in his 20s. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder is a severe brain disorder causing “unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” Haines said, “Right before being diagnosed, my brother was crashing cars, getting drunk, using drugs, and breaking things—he always would be violent and break things.” Haines credited her brother's “turn around” to a recently found faith and to getting help about 20 years ago through Alcoholics Anonymous.
Lastly, Haines the last 11 years has been the primary caregiver for her 75-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer's disease. She said, “The symptoms began about 20 years ago. My mother then lost her husband in 2004 and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2005. I began caring for her then. She wasn't able to do her checkbook, was depressed, and wasn't caring for her personal needs. She would buy things she couldn't afford using a credit card, something she had never done before. Currently, her vocabulary is limited and she doesn't always feed herself.”
She advised caregivers of family members with dementia: “Don't think you can do it alone. You can't. I go to a support group that helps a lot. My husband and daughters are great helping out. My mother would have been in a nursing home a long time ago without everyone's help. She lives at our home, but also goes to a(n) (adult) daycare center for six hours a day. Caregivers need to have breaks. If you plan on doing it, make sure you (regularly) get away from the care (to rest).”
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