Caregiver Stress & Burnout: Can Lead To Tragic Events

· alzheimer's, burn-out
Authors

Today I want to share a grim story with you. If you watch the news it may have caught your eye. But I want to post it in its entirety here.  It may be that you are like Bobby, taking care of one or both parents with Alzheimer’s.  If you have been doing it a while then you may identify with Bobby quite a bit.  If you are a new caregivers, then let this be a cautionary tale. The point is caregiver stress is potent, and it sneaks up on you, and before you know it your whole life has changed and you are putting one foot in front of the other – day in and day out, and you have almost stopped asking yourself questions like: how did I get here?

The point is, there is a way out, there really is!  But you are going to have to open your mind to new information and take some NEW actions in your life. Please take a moment and read this article, and see how much of what Bobby was dealing with, you are dealing with too. I will have a little more information for you afterward:

Caregiver stress underlies death

The Associated Press

Published: November 9, 2009

FORT LAUDERDALE – The scenes seared into the minds of those who know Bobby Yurkanin differ only in place: Whether in the pool, dinner table or bowling alley, he was a 50-something man whose life had been handed over to the sickness of his parents. Always, his father was by his side. Yurkanin moved across the country to care for his dying mother. He did it again as his father sank into Alzheimer’s disease. When the father grew combative, his son would calm him. When he didn’t want to eat, his son would cajole him to take some fruit. Friends said the son assumed a caretaker role out of necessity, despite a strained family history. Those who saw him and his father together often described the younger Yurkanin as dutiful, patient, dedicated. All this disappears into a single scene: A beachside argument, the father’s lifeless body lying in the sand, and accusing fingers pointing to the son. Witnesses said they saw the son drag his father into the ocean, let the waves steal his breath, then tell a 911 dispatcher called by an onlooker to turn the ambulance around. Yurkanin arrived at his lowest point a relentless, thankless, solitary task of caring for someone with dementia. Millions know it. But Yurkanin’s downward spiral ended with a charge of murder.

Yurkanin’s father was a successful engineer, businessman and inventor. The family’s New Jersey home sold for nearly $1 million, and there were two more modest homes in Florida. Yurkanin told psychologists his father was an abusive alcoholic, his mother prone to psychotic episodes. He told his ex-wife his father abused his mother and his grandmother. For Bobby, an only child, growing up was traumatic, said his attorney, Michael Weinstein. Still, he finished college and graduate school. He started law school, dropped out and set up a paralegal business. He also excelled at something that would be cited when his father lay helpless on the beach. He was a lifeguard, whose skill is evident in newspaper clippings of his wins at competitions.

In the late 1990s, moved home to Short Hills, N.J., to help care for his mother, who had cancer. Not long after she died in 2001, his father showed signs of Alzheimer’s. When the father resisted going to a nursing home, his son felt he had no choice but to take over his care. Bobby Yurkanin assumed supervision and he and his father moved to Florida. The disease progressed. In time, Bobby showed signs of losing control. In Palm Coast, neighbor Kathy Mittelstadt told police she once saw the father wandering the street in a diaper. Numerous other times, she said she heard the son yelling and cursing. “I can’t wait till you’re no longer one of my problems,” she said she heard him say.

Troubles mount

At the Playa Del Sol condominiums in Fort Lauderdale, where father and son settled, complaints grew. The father was often wandered in hallways, sometimes nude, and into others’ condos. Residents complained he dressed in front of an open door. Once, when Yurkanin was alerted his dad had been wandering, condo employees said he went into a profane tirade in the lobby. Anna Fico, a friend who sometimes helped watch the father, said Bobby Yurkanin confided that it was all too much. It’s a dilemma many others have confronted. Sometimes the stress has led to physical abuse. People caring for a spouse or parent with dementia have been accused of killing them in rage or expression of mercy to end their misery. Caregivers have gone to prison. “The demands on caregivers are almost unfathomable,” said Gail Gazelle, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who is an advocate for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. “The anger, guilt, and shame that caregivers experience is intense.”

No one accused Yurkanin of abuse, Weinstein said. Many who saw him with his father said the son would grow frustrated by his father and sometimes raise his voice, but his care was undeniably loving. Kenneth Carter, an old friend of Yurkanin, said he saw him with his father during several visits. He described both men as alcoholics, but said he was impressed with the way his friend cared for his father. Carter said the old man would suddenly stand and recite the Gettysburg Address or sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He would take off his shorts and run down the street. His mood could change at a moment; he would kick, scream, and become combative “Bobby would always come to Bob’s rescue, and all would be forgiven,” Carter said. One Friday, Yurkanin had to give his father a shower and a shave, Fico, called and asked them to join her at the beach. Yurkanin agrees.

Fight over swimsuit

Not long after they arrive, the father pulls down his swimsuit and stands on the sand exposed. “Bob! Bob! Bob! Your father took off his clothes!” Fico yelled. What happened varies according to witness accounts. Yurkanin swears at his father, said a couple nearby. With the father resisting, the son took him into the water. Onlookers and Fico used the word “drag.” It’s the only way his father will learn, the only way he’ll listen, a witness quoted Yurkanin as saying with profanity. In waist-deep waters, Yurkanin removes his father’s shorts and diaper as Fico helps hold him up. The son goes ashore to throw out the diaper, returns, and dives underneath to try to put the shorts back on. It doesn’t work. Some say the father continues to fight his son. Some witnesses said Yurkanin pulled his father’s ankles upward to put the shorts on and the old man’s head went underwater. But attorney Weinstein said it’s not clear the father’s head was submerged. Whatever happened, it was clear to many watching the father was distressed. Joanne Turing, peering through binoculars from her balcony, saw the man’s face change color. “This guy’s dying,” she said.

After Yurkanin brought his father ashore, some witnesses were puzzled by his actions. He put him so close to the water, waves washed over his face, some said. Others didn’t know why it took so long for him to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Some said he never did. Three witnesses called 911. In one call, an agitated Yurkanin is heard yelling that an ambulance isn’t needed. “Oh sir, you’re kidding,” the called said. “I’m his son!” he shouted. “Get out of here! Don’t send any ambulance. I don’t want any ambulance.” The caller pleads with the operator: “Help! Help! Help! Help! Help!” Yurkanin took the phone and told the dispatcher: “Forget it! Don’t you come! If you come, I’m not releasing this patient.” A man grabs the phone, asking the dispatcher to send help.Paramedics arrive. As they prepare to take the father to Holy Cross Hospital, where he arrived in critical condition, the son asked to ride along. He is told to wait for police, who asked Yurkanin why he forced his father in the water. “He smelled bad,” he replied.

The father died the next day. The death is ruled a homicide and Yurkanin, 53, is arrested two weeks later on a first-degree murder charge. He is free on bond while awaiting trial in January. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison. Weinstein said Yurkanin’s response was a culmination of “deep-rooted psychological issues,” not malice. Psychologists hired by Weinstein said Yurkanin felt helpless, hopeless. They said caring for two chronically ill parents for many years resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Terrible.  Whether you believe what Bobby did is inexcusable, or you believe he is a victim of stress and driven insane by an uncontrollable demented father, as caregivers we can identify with him at least a little bit.  However, if you can identify with Bobby a lot, and you are a lone caregiver taking care of difficult parent or spouse, you need to take action.  I am sure you have heard  that stress is killer: that long-term stress significantly increases your chance for a heart attack, stroke, even cancer. And you may have even seen the statistics that half of all caregivers die before the person they caring for.  I can’t prove it, but I think the only imaginable reason for this scary statistic is stress. Stress kills!
But you can reduce and even eliminate your stress, and you can do it without changing your circumstances or putting your loved one in a nursing home.  This post is already too long for me to be specific, but I have been writing about stress management for years.  I have developed a number of techniques that work great for caregivers who cannot get away or out of the house.
In fact, I will be posting many on them in my newsletter. But for now, let me recommend Guided Imagery.  In fact, if you sign up for my newsletter (and get on the list for a free stress management CD), you will get a free download today!  Just look for the sign up for in the upper-left part of this page, put in your name and email and I will send you a free, no obligations required, guided imagery recording that was written and produced by a Gerontologist, just for caregivers like yourself.
Donahue Vanderhider, MSG
Gerontologist, Hypnotherapist
p.s.  I was deeply moved by this story, if you feel you are against the ropes and can picture yourself in Bobby’s shoes, hurting the one you love, please contact me immediately. Do not worry about your identity, it is safe with me.  But let me help or at least steer you to someone or some agency that can.  Contact me here just leave a response in the comments section, or write me at donahueg@alumni.usc.edu

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