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Exhausted dementia caregiver wonders which will last longer, the coronavirus pandemic or her

By Stacey Burling, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Senior Living

PHILADELPHIA - Even before the pandemic, Rosanne Corcoran's life was isolating, frantic and more than a little sad.

She was the main caregiver for her 91-year-old mother Rose Carfagno, who has dementia, vertigo, and bad knees. Carfagno rarely left her big room on the second floor of her daughter's Collegeville home, but Corcoran, 53, had to sprint up the 15 steps every time her mother tried to walk, which was often. The older woman needed help with dressing, bathing, and tooth brushing. Corcoran's younger daughter, Erin, was in her last year of high school, with all the usual senior activities, and her husband worked from a basement office.

Corcoran could leave home only during the four hours a day an outside aide came. That was when she crammed in errands, doctors' appointments, haircuts, trips to Planet Fitness three times a week, meetings of Daughterhood, the local caregivers support group she runs, and precious me time.

Then came the coronavirus.

Corcoran decided she would "roll up the driveway" as soon as her daughter's school closed. It would be a nightmare if the family caregiver got sick and Corcoran assumed her mother could not survive COVID-19. The high school closed March 10. The aide got two weeks pay and permission to look for other work, which she found.

Corcoran's very hard job, like that of thousands of others like her, got harder.

 

For months now, she has barely left the house. "You have four walls," she said at a recent virtual Daughterhood meeting. "When this all started, it feels like you're in a phone booth." When she does go out, she worries she'll bring the virus back with her, so she hurries home.

Normally, Corcoran is an upbeat person. She's warm, open, easy to talk to. For the first time in her life, she feels numb. It started in mid-April. "I think those of us with a brain thought, 'Oh crap. This is big. This isn't just like a flu and this isn't going to go away when it gets warm,'" she said. She thinks the pandemic will last at least until next summer. "Then you think, how long am I going to last in these parameters?"

She has a camera in her mother's room that she monitors from her iPad. An alarm sounds when her mother gets out of bed. Sometimes she gets four or five hours of sleep; she's always on high alert for the alarms. Even though she's exhausted, it's hard to fall asleep. Despite all the stair climbing she's doing, she feels "horribly out of shape." An allergy sufferer, she has fretted late at night that she had COVID-19. One night her heart raced so fast she thought she was having a heart attack. Her hips and arms hurt from supporting her mother. Patches of skin feel like they're on fire. "It's stress," she said.

Her days are punctuated aggressively with interruptions. There are many bathroom breaks to supervise. She delivers meals. She does the laundry. Her mom is upset because she "wants to go home." She gives her mom a shower. She takes a shower of her own, all the while watching the monitor. The Wi-Fi fails, so she has to get out and restart it, then finish the shower. She gives her mom eye drops for Sjogren's syndrome and nasal spray for vertigo. She makes the bed with fresh sheets and changes TV channels. They talk or watch together. She snatches conversations with her daughter and husband. She makes separate dinners for her mother, who has gotten finicky about food, and the rest of the family.

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(c)2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

 

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