Thankful for family caregivers

News photo by Emily Thiel Matthew DeMaria stands with an array of family shots at his home in Flying Hills. DeMaria was the primary caregiver for his wife, Bea, while she battled with dementia.

November serves as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Month, which not only reminds us to encourage more research for the disease, but to remember the caregivers, as well. Services for those affected by Alzheimer’s are available in Berks County through Home Instead Senior Care; providing care for seniors and their caregivers.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, in the United States there are more than 15 million Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers.

In Berks County, there are currently 100 clients using Home Instead Senior Care. One of whom is Matthew DeMaria of Cumru Township.

DeMaria volunteered to act as caregiver for his wife, Bea, while she battled dementia. It was at church when he knew something serious was wrong with his wife.

“We were kneeling at church and were supposed to get up for the gospel, but Bea didn’t get up,” he shared.

After visits with the doctor, it was discovered that dementia set in and had slowly progressed.

DeMaria said he never, once, thought about not being his wife’s caregiver. “I resolved myself to the fact, and [was her caregiver] for nine years,” he said.

It was 1940 when Matthew met his wife at a family gathering in Philadelphia.

In the words of her husband, Bea was a very outgoing and down to earth individual. “She had an agenda and, boy, she kept it!” he said.

Matthew and Bea were married in Florida on April 11, 1944. They lived in Lansdowne, Pa., where they raised their five children together.

“It was the best part of my life,” he stated about his lifetime spent with Bea. They traveled by motor home out west to camp and visit friends and relatives.

“We had a lot of fun,” DeMaria said. “We got along together very well.”

It was the love he had for Bea that gave him the drive to be her caregiver.

“It wasn’t a problem for me,” he said. “I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I had too much love for her.”

Bea broke her left hip when she fell in their home. After surgery and rehabilitation, DeMaria said she no longer wanted to get dressed or go out. “She was a proud little girl,” he fondly stated.

Home Instead Senior Care provided Bea with support, as Kim would visit to bathe Bea.

Fortunately in Bea’s case, her dementia never developed into Alzheimer’s disease, “She still had a little bit of [a hold on] what was going on,” DeMaria said.

Kim continues to assist DeMaria with some house cleaning, but mostly, they just talk. In addition to their services for Alzheimer’s Care, they also offer non-medical home care, companionship, short term recovery, arthritis care and home helper services.

“You’re a poster child for keeping yourself well and young,” Kathy, Home Instead Senior Care, said while checking up with DeMaria.

After his wife passed away in March of this year, his has become friends with those in his development.

“They take care of me,” he said. “They take me out to dinner.”

Like for DeMaria, many act as a caregiver out of love. But even being a dedicated and loving caregiver can be an extremely difficult experience.

“A lot [of dementia patients] go into Alzheimer’s.” DeMaria said. “You need patience and compassion [to be a caregiver.] Don’t lose your cool.”

The disease often can be much harder on the loved ones than those with dementia because they are cognitive and aware of the situation.

“There is no way to say what form [the disease] will take,” Donna Zimmerman, with Home Instead Senior Care, said about a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis. “The saddest part of the illness is that it can develop on so many different levels.

“As a daughter, it’s a very difficult disease. It was difficult to not be known by my mother,” Zimmerman said about her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s. “She became someone I didn’t know.” Zimmerman began her work with Home Instead Senior Care after she served as a caregiver for her mother.

Zimmerman said every member of the staff “brings their own personal experience to working with seniors. We are able to relate.”

“It’s okay to recognize you can’t do it all on your own,” Zimmerman said. “Your own well-being cannot be impacted.”

In addition to their current 85 caregivers, the service offers training and counseling for caregivers. “Some [potential caregivers] feel it’s their duty, but don’t fully understand what’s going on in the brain [with the disease].” Through Home Instead, classes to teach techniques are available.

Home Instead also provides Respite Care for caregivers when they need a break to rest and recharge. This allows the family member to go out, go on vacation or even just get a haircut.

Visit Home Instead Senior Care online at homeinstead.com or call 800-640-3914 to find further information on how Home Instead can help you.

About the Author

Emily Thiel

Emily Thiel is the editor of The Southern Berks News and is the Community Engagement Editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers. Emily joined Berks-Mont in March 2013. She graduated from Kutztown University in 2011 with a degree in English with a concentration in Cultural and Media Studies. Emily is a native of Allentown, Pa. Reach the author at ethiel@berksmontnews.com or follow Emily on Twitter: @sthrnberksnews.