We remember Brooke Shields as an icon of the 70s and 80s from controversial movies like "Pretty Baby" and those provocative Calvin Klein ads: “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” In recent years she has reinvented herself as a TV star (“Lipstick Jungle,” “Suddenly Susan”) and Broadway headliner (“Chicago” and “The Addams Family.”)
But perhaps the most important role for the actress, 46, lies in speaking out on health and family issues - her own postpartum depression years ago and more recently, about being a caregiver for her mother.
It was her mother’s diagnosis with a dreaded disease that helped a longstanding rift between the two. Often criticized for steering her young daughter’s career in sexually explicit directions for someone so young, Teri Shields had a champion and friend in her daughter. However, when Brooke was 28 she cut all ties with her mother. The reason? Teri's alcoholism. But a few years ago, Brooke began caring for her mother after Teri was diagnosed with dementia and progressive Alzheimer’s disease.
When Brooke described caregiving for her mom in a recent women’s magazine, she called it a “burden” and a “blessing.” (The reality is, though, that the burden isn't a new one. Brooke was a caregiver for her mom for a lot of years before that, as so many children of alcoholics are.)
Trying to maintain a balance between caring for her girls and caring for her mother makes Brooke one of the millions of Sandwich Generation caregivers who are squeezed between raising children and caring for an older loved one simultaneously. These people number about one in three of the nation’s 65 million caregivers.
Many in this group feel alone in their journey. It is this sense of isolation that can lead to chronic stress, depression and other health risks. For Brooke, it truly is a solo act. Even though she has her husband, Chris Henchy, by her side, the caregiving responsibilities and decisions fall squarely on Brooke’s shoulders. Some days caregivers like Brooke wonder, "Who's taking care of me?" The answer is you need to take care of yourself – do the things that nurture your soul, maintain your health, and bring peace to your mind away from the endless needs of everyone else.
Teri's illness is not uncommon. She's one of five million Americans today who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, millions more are undiagnosed. Knowing the early warning signs and being able to plan ahead can help caregivers and families.
It was not until 2008, after her mother’s diagnosis, that Brooke realized she was not capable of keeping her mother as safe and as healthy as possible at home. She made the hard decision to have her mother checked into a senior living facility specializing in dementia and Alzheimer’s care. (Even after her mother was in the facililty, however, there was a horrifying incident. Taking advantage of her mother's illness, a tabloid reporter checked her out of the home. Teri was later found having lunch with him.)
In the midst of such a long, emotionally draining process, adopting a practical, no-nonsense attitude can help. As Brooke said in the recent magazine interview, “First of all, there’s no martyrdom. It’s a pain in the ass, but it has to be done. I just think, you’re only given what you supposedly can handle.”
Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is executive producer and host of the cable TV program dedicated to caregivers Handle With Care and her blog reaches five million Baby Boomers monthly. Her book on celebrities who are caregivers will be published in 2012. You can find more information about caregiving at: www.caregivingclub.com.
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