Applause goes to George Smith for sharing personal perspectives attending his aging process, in his July 31 column.

George, however, failed to address the next stage: that of the aging caregivers among us confronting their failing health along with simultaneous care devoted to a debilitated loved one. George, soon to arrive at 65, understandably had no reason to pen his concern about that dilemma.

At 82, I’m caregiver to Judy, my wife of 52 years, severely depleted of mind by 10 years of Alzheimer’s disease. A 25-year cancer survivor, she’s now in the end stage of Alzheimer’s.

Our husband/wife relationship has evolved to that of parent/child as analyzed in “The Forgetting, Alzheimer’s: Portrait of an Epidemic,” by David Shenk.

For the past two years, Judy has been a day patient at the Alzheimer’s facility in Gardiner, cheerfully called “The Club,” for three days per week, five hours per day. Last year’s out-of-pocket cost, including travel, was more than $10,000.

The excellent “Club” program administered by a resolute, loving staff keeps Judy off our living room sofa, and I get a chance to catch my breath. Also, I’ve been a regular attendee at helpful caregiver support sessions in the Cohen Center, Hallowell.    

Smith described aches and pains he has lately encountered; some of which can be addressed by chiropractic care. Luckily, I’ve had a health-restoring chiropractic practitioner in the family for the past 25 years!

My 17 extra years on George give me a “leg up” on his health setbacks. Last January, my right hip was replaced. The left one is due that same procedure this coming January.

In May, when my driver’s license needed renewal, I flunked the vision test. That required removal of cataracts from both eyes. I went from poor vision to ability to drive without glasses, but while that process ran its course, I drove seven weeks without a license.

Given Judy’s complete reliance on my ability to provide her every care, I had to be on the road. I “pictured” the headline: “Judge Benoit caught driving without license.” I can name lawyers who would have loved it!

My sense of duty owed fellow drivers was heeded; good vision had bounced back and given 15 years judging traffic cases in District Court, I knew the rules of the road.

Judy came first, any fine was second. I lacked an option. Driving Judy to the “Club” and back, four times daily when she’s there requires 192 miles per week. If I had hired someone to do it, I would have spent more than $612 per month! How many of us have the bucks to hire travel to the grocery store? Dentist, church, post office, appointments, etc.?

Just so you know, though, my new license is unrestricted. 

My current health concern is a scheduled MRI of my severe-aching left knee; a follow-up to two recent ultrasound exams ruling out Baker’s cyst and clotting.

Ah, the “golden years.” Although the ache significantly lengthens time of caregiving chores, Judy’s needs are satisfied.

George Smith concluded his column by noting “there is no way to escape the pain, confusion and worry about getting old.” He’s correct about the pain and confusion; the worry is wasted time.

I learned that from my UMA Senior College Class, “Hard Core Zen,” taught by Jonathan Lepoff this spring. While positive planning for future particulars is well and good, worrying about tomorrow could create stress and require resort to depression medication. I’ve witnessed it in others who live in the “now” but worry about what’s anticipated.

 Before mentioning a concluding caregiver plight, I disclose knowing George Smith, firsthand. I ran into him a lot during my six years in the Maine Senate, where he performed meaningful lobbying duties. Don’t try looking for a nicer guy; you’d be wasting time. And his middle name is “sensible.”

I share with him a major concern hanging around my neck like the literary albatross, transcending pain and confusion. It’s about the “end game!”

 I’m a Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War. Frequently, I visit acquaintances at the Maine Veterans’ Home in Augusta. I don’t deem it easy to go there, but I find it fulfilling. The loving care dispensed by the staff is, in a word, saintly.

I have yet to come out of the home, however, without the sense I don’t want to do that. I ask myself if I have the courage to do it. Some residents don’t know who they are or where they are, some do.

Still, I always depart the home with the “sense of strength” it takes to live out life there. Patients’ “strength” not to quit on life is inspiring. Caregivers lack the option of “cutting and running.” The referenced “sense of strength” can become a caregiver’s support much beyond a crutch. Caregiver “burn out” may also hang fire!

The headline of George’s article is a truism: “Problems of aging get personal for all of us…..”

George’s piece is another well-written feature of a timely topic. This one hit home. He steps off on the right foot regarding his willingness to share concern about aging’s known challenges. He’s not alone. He belongs to a worldwide fraternity whose members don’t get out of here alive.

For caregivers, it is essential to live in the “now,” appreciative of one’s past history; hanging on to acceptance of tomorrow’s aging challenges. Prayer on bent knees doesn’t hurt the cause.

Worry is dressed in troll’s hide under the bridge. Keep walking!     

John Benoit and his wife, Judy, live in Manchester and have three children and six grandchildren.

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