What would happen if one day, you and your spouse were enjoying life together as you always had and were making plans for the future, and the next day, when you woke up, you discovered your life partner had suffered a major stroke and would need help and care for life?
That is exactly what happened to Allan Ament. In August 2005, his wife, Delores, had a stroke and he had to learn how to cope. Now, 10 years later, he has learned a great deal about being a caregiver and the changes it has wrought in their lives. In the course of transitioning to the role of caregiver, Ament kept a journal and that became the basis of the book, Learning to Float.
The Louisville native spoke about his book and his experiences at Jewish Family & Career Services (JFCS) on Monday, June 29. As the days and weeks dragged on following his wife’s stroke, Ament said he realized, “I had become a statistic. I was 1 of 64 million unpaid caregivers in the country.” He estimates unpaid caregivers contribute about $460 billion to the economy.
Caring for his wife has become the most important thing in his life. “Our lives changed dramatically that day,” he said of the day of his wife’s stroke, “and in many ways, for the better. Our relationship is stronger or as strong as ever.” He also learned a lot about himself.
Throughout the evening, he read snippets of the book, sharing some of the challenges they faced together, how he grew and changed as a caregiver, his frustrations with the medical care for stroke victims and insurance companies. He also addressed the ups and downs of his wife’s condition.
He distilled the book into a series of lessons for caregivers. Some of them are:
• Take care of yourself – exercise, eat well, take naps.
• Follow a spiritual practice.
• Look for positive energy.
• Ask for help.
• Cry out, scream, express your feelings, but ensure that you are not making the person you are caring for the object of abuse.
• Read research and ask questions.
• Be an advocate.
• Find intellectual and creative outlets.
• Accept what’s happening.
• Be thankful for what you have rather than mourning what you don’t have.
• Feel gratitude for big and small things.