Caring for someone while also caring for yourself

By Isabella W.

Tracy Sarallo of Tampa saw a dramatic shift in her life when her mother began showing symptoms of memory decline. That decline was the result of Alzheimer’s disease. Her mother, unfortunately, was not the only one touched by the disease. Sarallo’s aunt was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and quickly declined. 

Despite feeling alone, Tracy and her stepfather came together to learn the best ways to support their loved ones through their new journey. Now, two decades later, she’s reminiscing on the lessons she learned as a caregiver and wants to share tips for others on how to care for someone while also taking care of yourself.  

Today, according to the Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures Report, nearly half of all caregivers (48%) who provide help to older adults do so for someone living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

“It’s a whole transition where your parent becomes your child and it’s a role change,” Sarallo said. 

At first, she and her stepfather had to grapple with the disruption of their lives as caregivers. She had to be more alert, especially since her mother was mobile. She and her stepfather tried moving her mother between houses to balance caregiving, but quickly realized that it generated more confusion for her. 

Currently, Florida caregivers are providing $23.4 billion in unpaid care which takes a devastating toll on families like Sarallo’s.

Sarallo felt like she truly began to understand her mother and aunt’s perspective when she started volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Association in 2019. She began doing online coursework and presentations designed to help people understand the nature of the disease. This helped her develop more compassion for her aunt and mother’s perspective. 

“Now that I’ve learned a lot about the disease and what’s happening to her and my mom, I was able to be a lot more loving and compassionate,” added Sarallo.

Specifically, Sarallo wishes that she utilized resources such as the support provided by the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900). The helpline can help families learn more about face-to-face support groups and education programs in communities across Florida. 

Today, Sarallo teaches other volunteers and continues to be an involved advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association. Her aunt died after a year and a half of the disease, and her mother resides peacefully in an assisted living community. Sarallo makes time to visit and contact her often. 

Sarallo encourages caregivers to work on balancing their ability to help their loved ones while maintaining their own personal care.

“It’s usual for people if they care for other people to neglect themselves, so there’s a balance when you’re a caregiver.”

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