WESTWOOD, Kan. -- Ninety million Americans are caregivers for family members. November is National Family Caregivers Month. Experts are reminding caregivers that respite or taking a break isn't a luxury. It's a necessity.
Parkinson's disease has slowed Jerry Claussen over the past 20 years. There's little that Dorothy, his wife of 61 years, doesn't help him with now -- from medications to bathing and dressing. Dorothy is frank in her assessment of caregiving.
"There's days when I could pinch his head off. Just frustrating. Well, for him it's 'Dorothy, Dorothy,' you know. Forget my name for a little while," she said.
The executive director of the National Parkinson Foundation Heartland, Jane Ann Gorsky, says Dorothy, like all caregivers, needs to take breaks.
"If you use all your energy, and that means emotional and physical energy, you will have no more to give to that person that really needs it," said Gorsky.
So three days a week, the Claussens have a home health aide come in for three hours. Dorothy says it was hard to relinquish responsibility at first, but two years later, she wouldn't have it any other way.
"I don't do anything for him 'til she leaves. That's my time," said Dorothy.
"Keep her sanity," said Jerry.
Both of the Claussens also benefit from Parkinson Foundation programs. Jerry takes part in an exercise class two days a week.
"All of us that are caregivers, we go in the back room there. It's our 'cuss and discuss', and believe you me, we cuss and discuss," said Dorothy.
Gorsky says the support groups are vital "because isolation tends to breed depression 'cause you think you're the only person in the world that's dealing with this."
Dorothy says with the support and respite, she's had no depression.
Jerry sums up what she means to him in one word.
Many other non-profit groups and churches also have support groups and offer help so caregivers can take a break.