Actor and comedian Caitlin Reilly is known for spreading joy online, but in this exclusive interview, she shares the serious challenges of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease.
What is your best advice to those whose loved ones have been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s?
The strongest advice I have is “full acceptance.” For a long time, I was in denial of my father’s condition. I found that once I accepted the situation as is, I was able to have a clear head in aiding him and my other family members from a calm and centered space. It wasn’t always easy, but having that as my emotional launching pad made things a lot easier.
For you, what has been the importance of finding community and support as a caregiver?
The importance of finding community for me, personally, was paramount. As someone who was younger with older parents, I was the only person my age who had a parent suffering from a disease like this. It was incredibly isolating. Once I found a community of people who have gone through and are going through the same trauma and frustrations as I did, it was incredibly comforting and healing.
What were the biggest challenges you faced as a caregiver?
One of my biggest challenges was frustration and guilt. I would get frustrated with my father, which would lead to me feeling incredibly guilty for days on end. It was a vicious cycle in the beginning for me. Eventually, I learned to slow down and communicate with him in a way where I fully understood what he needed and how he felt, without him needing to fully communicate (which he wasn’t able to do after a while). I knew he relied on me for that, and it became easy for me to help him calm down and problem-solve. In the end, he never forgot who I was or what my name was, and I think my changing our communication to a style that “fit” him was a big reason for that.
As an ambassador for Hilarity for Charity, what do you wish everyone knew about Alzheimer’s and caregiving?
The one thing I wish people knew about Alzheimer’s is that it’s not just an “old person disease.” It affects people in their 40s and 50s as well. Brain health is incredibly important, and if Alzheimer’s runs in your family, you need to take action to take care of yourself in those arenas. This disease is a slow burn heartbreak, and very traumatic for caregivers, especially if they are family. If you know someone who has a close loved one suffering from this, please check in on them. They need care too.
Has your experience influenced how you approach your personal brain health?
My experience has absolutely affected my approach to my own brain health. I have ADHD, so I’ve always been a person who had to work a little harder to pay attention and follow through, but my brain is No. 1 in my self-care routine. There are ways to keep Alzheimer’s at bay, and that’s taking the steps to take care of your cognitive health.