The Highs and Lows of Caregiving with Rick Lauber


Rick Lauber was completely unprepared when he fell into the role of caregiver. He graciously shared some of his experiences with Alert1. The author of The Successful Caregiver’s Guide and Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians began his caregiving journey when his mother drew the family together for a few announcements.


My wake-up call occurred when Mom met with my sisters and me to explain that she and our father planned to retire from their long-time family home [and move] to Victoria, British Columbia,” Rick says.


His mother had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and his father was showing early signs of Alzheimer’s. But it wasn’t long after their move to British Columbia that things took an even more serious turn with a call from a local nurse.  


“Mom had experienced weakness and dragged herself to the hospital where she was diagnosed with leukemia. It was then that we realized the seriousness of the situation and had to jump immediately into action,” Rick says.


The Caregiving Journey Begins


Rick and his two sisters convinced their parents to move back to their home city, where the siblings could be actively involved in their care. Working with his sisters went well, thanks to a keen understanding of how to use their individual strengths for the greatest good. 

“By collaborating, we not only better helped our parents, but we better helped ourselves by reducing our individual workloads,” Rick says. “This arrangement was also beneficial as we could share different ideas and/or points of view.”

After that experience, Rick has some advice for others. “Caregiving is best done with others, rather than independently. When considering tasks, we considered our own strengths, weaknesses, and availability. You can’t squeeze a round peg into a square hole, so family caregivers will be far more effective and provide better care by doing what they want to do and what they can do. By doing what they can and want to do, family caregivers will also be far more likely to complete their assigned tasks.”

Dealing with Burnout

Despite the good balance Rick and his sisters found in caregiving for their elderly parents, burnout was a very real and common thing. Juggling the variety of responsibilities was hard enough, but witnessing the decline of his parents was overwhelming.

Specifically, I remember feeling regularly heightened stress, irritability, frustration, insomnia, and exhaustion,” Rick says. “Focusing on my parents was my priority, but I realized that I must also focus on my own health and well-being. If I became sick, how could I best care for my parents?”

Respite care turned out to be a saving grace. But it took time for Rick to understand just how vitally important those caregiving breaks were to his mental health.

“Taking respite (or getting back on track) can take any form the family caregiver chooses, but I found that writing and walking proved to be excellent coping mechanisms. Respite can be provided in different ways… a professional caregiver can visit a loved one or a senior’s association can provide activities for visitors. My sisters and I also found a hospital day program for Dad a couple of days a week.”

Tearing Down the Stereotypes of Men and Caregiving

Rick served as a caregiver for his parents for about a decade. According to AARP, four in 10 caregivers are men. But the common societal view is of a 40-something female shouldering the caregiving burden.


“By having helped and supported my mother and father, I have realized that men can care (and cry) too. Men and women simply provide care differently and will excel at different tasks. Not to sound stereotypical, but women are often far more compassionate and can provide better hands-on care while men are more often the ‘doers’. “


When it came time to divide up caregiving responsibilities, Rick shied away from jobs that felt physically intimate, such as toileting, bathing, and dressing his parents. He contributed in other very important ways, such as driving them to doctor’s appointments, handling their banking and finances, paying bills and managing investments, and helping them move from one location to another.


“Each of these jobs was important. So yes, both men and women can provide quality care and their varying contributions and approaches to caring need to be better recognized.”


The Ups and Downs of Caregiving


Caregiving can be a rollercoaster ride of emotion. One day things are beautiful and caregiving feels like an incredibly rewarding endeavor; the next day, things are tough and it can be hard to see past the next hour. But over time, you find your strengths and weaknesses, and learn to give thanks for the time you’ve been given with your parents.


The same was true for Rick. When asked about his greatest victories as a result of caregiving, he pointed out that he’s a better author and has written two caregiving guidebooks based on his experience. “But I also experienced many other joys and victories as a caregiver,” he says. “These included becoming more self-aware of what I could do, bonding more with my parents and sisters, building a better professional support circle, and becoming more organized. These joys (and others) are often not realized until after caregiving ends.”


What about the downsides? “While my parents provided for the family [growing up], they were both quite private and didn’t discuss personal matters. I regret not asking (and pushing) them more for answers about their own childhoods, interests, likes/dislikes, role models, and so on,” Rick says. “Now that my parents are gone, those facts are also gone and I will never truly know Mom and Dad for who they were.”


Seeing his parents decline was also a difficult aspect. “With Mom’s Parkinson’s disease, her hands often trembled, her voice became quite faint, and she lost her cheerful smile (another symptom of Parkinson’s is a “stone”/"masked” face where one's facial muscles become rigid). With her leukemia, Mom lost much of her energy and had to be taken into a local hospital for weekly blood transfusions. Dad’s Alzheimer’s disease also became obvious as he began to forget, repeat himself, and lose his sense of direction while driving or even out for a walk.”


Reflections on Caregiving


If Rick could go back in time, he would choose to be better prepared for the role.


The National Alliance on Caregiving reports that there are 53 million caregivers in the United States today. As Baby Boomers turn 65 at the rate of 10,000 each day, many children of those elderly individuals find themselves suddenly thrust into caregiving and completely unprepared for it.[1] That lack of knowledge about the caregiving world is surprising, considering that one in every five Americans is a family caregiver.


“By better preparing, I would have felt far more ready and confident about my new responsibilities,” he says. “Granted, with a senior's ever-changing health conditions, completely planning ahead is impossible but [adult children of senior parents] can easily take smaller steps.”


Examples include discussing the situation with family members and creating a plan that includes how caregiving responsibilities will be delegated, the downsizing of a parent’s home or belongings, researching aging in place resources and housing transitions, talking with your parent about their will and advance directives, and taking steps to keep them safe, including using an emergency response system.


The caregiving journey, while rewarding for most, sadly ends with the loss of a person you love. When Rick lost his parents, grieving was tough.


Joining a bereavement support group proved to be helpful for me and I still remember the group leader’s advice to grieve on your own terms and never to rush it,” Rick shares. “Having regularly journalled throughout my caregiving years (to share thoughts, feelings, and experiences), I continued to do so and found this to be very therapeutic.”

Alert1 thanks Rick for sharing his invaluable experiences as a family caregiver with us and wishes all caregivers peace of mind and heart as they travel this special journey of love and compassion.