I am a guy. We guys are notorious for refusing to ask for help. I do not know if it is genetic, or learned. I strongly suspect the latter, but I am not so sure.
Once my wife, my then three young sons and I were hiking near a swollen creek in Colorado. I do not remember if it was my youngest son or my middle son, but whichever one had already been in trouble with me for something he had done. So, he knew he was on the short end of the leash with me.
As we were hiking, I looked back. He was gone. I looked into the swollen water, and there he was struggling in the water, trying to grasp a branch to pull himself out of the rapids — and not saying a word. I immediately entered the water, grabbed him and pulled him onto the bank.
I felt my heart was about to stop with fear of the thought he could have drowned. I asked him in a raised voice, “Why didn’t you call me?” He said, “I was afraid you would be mad.” I won the “Bad Parent of the Year” Award that year.
Recently, I spoke in Hays on dementia and Alzheimer’s. We had expected 10 people, and hoped for 20. Instead, 60people showed up — 60 people!
Sixty people were there concerned about dementia. Sixty people were seeking help; 60 people were looking for guidance.
My office is currently working with over 120 families that are facing dementia-related diseases. Their battles and courage are amazing, frightening and valiant — as well as heartbreaking and shocking.
People dealing with dementia type diseases many times suffer alone. They become overwhelmed. They lose their identity as a spouse, or as a son or daughter, and instead become a full time caregiver, ill prepared and ill equipped, working as a caregiver every moment they can. Many times the caregiver’s health will actually deteriorate faster than the person with dementia.
One point we made at our dementia workshop, a key point, is that if you are a caregiver, and if someone asked you if they can help — say YES. You may not know how they can help, yet. However, one day, you may think of a way that they will be able to help. You just need to give them a chance, and an idea how to help you.
It is hard to ask for help. Sometimes it is equally hard to accept it. Those dealing with dementia need a pool of people and resources who can help — even if it is just a little thing like picking up some groceries or relieving them for an hour. It may mean the caregiver gains a few moments of normalcy.
I learned an important lesson that day by the stream. I learned that my family and friends, no matter what goes on between us, need to know that they could always ask me for help; they can always feel free to reach out to me.
Years later, after the stream incident, one of my sons was involved in an accident in his antique car. He called me and told me of the accident. My first words, “Are you okay?” Later I heard him tell the story to his friends of that wreck, about our conversation, about how much that meant to him — that I was more concerned about his safety than the car. So, maybe after all, I learned a few lessons at that creek in Colorado.
When dealing with Alzheimer’s or dementia, or indeed facing a family crisis, do not be afraid to ask for help. And when help is offered, never say, “I do not need help. I am okay.” Save that offer of help for later on, and then use it. Asking or receiving help does not make you a bad person; it makes you a wise person, and you will even be a better caregiver.
And if you know someone who is dealing with dementia, don’t be afraid to offer your help, in any way you can. Just a little thing can be so helpful.
Plug: The Hays Alzheimer’s Walk is scheduled for Oct 5. I hope you will join the walk at Big Creek Crossing, 2918 Vine Street. Registration is at 9 a.m., with events starting at 10 a.m.
Randy Clinkscales is a 1980 graduate of Washburn Law School.