You may have read the recent article in the AARP Bulletin about Lonnie Ali, wife and caregiver for boxing legend Muhammad Ali. The story, “Caring for the Greatest,” features an interview with Lonnie about her role. She’s handled caregiver duties for her husband for the three decades since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this story is that the experiences of a caregiver are universal — even in light of any fame or fortune. Every situation may be different, but individual emotions and stressors are the same. They can also be managed in much the same way, so there’s something to learn from Lonnie.
The Emotional Toll of Caregiving
No one has ever claimed that caring for a sick, injured, or disabled loved one is an easy job. In fact, it’s far from it. Often, the emotional ramifications of caregiving cause more of a struggle than the physical work required. Caregiving brings with it a host of negative emotions such as loneliness, frustration, depression, sadness, and even guilt.
In Ali’s case, her role has changed over time. Initially, she worked alongside her husband to support him. As his disease progressed, she transitioned from that supporting role into the primary caregiver. And though her transition happened over time, her emotions have resembled those of caregivers whose loved ones suffered sudden changes, such as after strokes or falls. The illness changes the relationship, and a flurry of emotions begin to flood in.
“Take Care of the Caregiver”
Lonnie Ali says that one of the most important things she does to care for her husband is to take care of herself. She urges other caregivers to learn to accept their “new normal,” which has helped her face the challenges of caregiving.
Lonnie is the one responsible for ensuring her husband takes his medications, which hasn’t always been an easy task. She’s also tasked with basic caregiver duties, tracking his sleep and other factors, and communicating any issues with his doctor. Because his speech has also been affected, she’s his link to the outside world.
In order to fulfill all of these roles, Lonnie has to find the time to also focus on herself. The emotional toll of caregiving can be overwhelming if she doesn’t take a break every now and then. It’s just as important that she ensures her husband’s medication schedule is followed as it is that she makes it to her exercise classes three times a week, calls on respite care so she can take a shopping trip, or that she and her husband can have an occasional date night at the movies.
Lonnie and Muhammad Ali may have fame and financial stability, but their story isn’t that much different from many others across the country. A serious illness, injury, or disability can quickly change the roles in a relationship. Accepting your new role and keeping an eye on your own health and well-being can help make you a better caregiver for your loved one.