Senior Living





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

By Stacey Burling, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Senior Living

On a recent evening, her mom was in bed by 10 p.m., but Corcoran couldn't sleep until after midnight. Her Fitbit said she had taken 7,255 steps that day and climbed 28 flights of stairs. She never left the house.

Corcoran has three older siblings, two of whom live nearby and used to visit often and provide back-up before the pandemic, when it was safe for them to go inside. They now come for occasional backyard visits with Corcoran. Her mother sees them through her window. Corcoran's older daughter, Rosemary, who is in graduate school for occupational therapy, has visited a few times. Once, she saw her grandmother from a distance. "Come here," Carfagno said. "Mom, she can't," Corcoran told her. "She actually put her arms out and said, 'Come here.'" There were tears in Carfagno's eyes.

Corcoran has learned to cut and color her mother's hair. She's also taken on a job that used to be her sister's: painting her mother's nails Cherries in the Snow red.

Meanwhile, a "mopey" Erin has started her freshman year at Ursinus College in the family's dining room. Corcoran's husband, Kevin, is still working 10- to 11-hour days in the basement. They help out around the house, but Corcoran shoulders virtually all of the caregiving, not so much because she has to, but because she feels she is the one who anchors her mother's fragile world. She can't abandon her mother now. She can't give her daughters and husband all she'd like either. She's neglecting herself.

Her emotions are a maelstrom of guilt and grief and anxiety.

She knows she's not alone. She belongs to several caregiver groups on Facebook and runs her own. "Everybody's drowning," she said.

At the Daughterhood meeting, several members talked about desperately needing outside help, but fearing that aides might not be careful enough. Corcoran has hired an aide when she had a doctor's appointment, but isn't ready to return to the pre-pandemic schedule.

She has always been exceptionally close with her mother, who was widowed when her daughter was almost 17. Even before Carfagno moved in five years ago, Corcoran visited her daily and called several times a day.

Rose Carfagno, a hairdresser who later became an avid ballroom dancer, has declined these last few months. At her age, some decline is normal, but Corcoran thinks the isolation has made it worse. Carfagno asks about going home every day now. She talks about long-dead siblings as if they were alive. She's lost 10 pounds. She knows a virus has shaken her world, but doesn't really understand. "Every morning she'll say, 'It looks nice out there. I guess it's better,'" her daughter said. Corcoran suspects her mother doesn't always recognize her. "Sometimes when she calls me honey, I know she doesn't know it's me." In a recent moment of clarity, the mother said, "I'm so sorry you have to take care of me."


Carfagno spends much of her day watching television. She likes The Price is Right, The Young and Restless and Wheel of Fortune. She loves Everybody Loves Raymond. "Raymond is like another occupant in my house," Corcoran said. When the world seems especially tense, she puts on the Hallmark channel. "The cure for the pandemic is the Hallmark channel," she joked.

If her mother gets restless, she brings in a basket of towels to fold. Carfagno loves that. If she asks for more work, her daughter takes the towels into the hall, messes them all up and brings them back to her mother.

Corcoran realizes she needs to take care of herself too, and is working on that. Cooking makes her happy. Her favorite creative outlet is Daughterhood The Podcast, interviews on caregiving that she conducts in her bedroom walk-in closet - it's quiet there and the clothes are great for acoustics. She has electric massagers for her shoulders and lower back. She meditates. She's trying to sleep more, although, she said, "if I read one more story about how important sleep is, I think I'm going to lose my mind."

Her life is stressful, yes, but there's only one way out of this, and she's in no hurry for that to happen.

Rosanne Corcoran is still, at heart, an upbeat person, and she still has plenty to be thankful for.

"I'm always grateful at the end of the day for the fact that I can do this for the time that I get to do this," she said. "I'm grateful for (my family) every single day and that I get to see my mother every day."

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