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Family

When dementia set in, her mother needed constant care. What’s a daughter to do?

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Ad Council + AARP

Dorothy Hampton Marcus was always ahead of her time, participating in the civil rights movement and later writing about the South she'd experienced under Jim Crow laws.

Her daughter, Kaypri, didn't see that side of her at first. Growing up, Dorothy's bookshelf was the only clue she had to that life since her mother had thrown herself into the parenting role.


But her mother loved writing and eventually planned to put those experiences into print.

When she retired in her 60s, Dorothy started writing her autobiography. Then the dementia set in.

"It wasn't easy arranging her move across the country," Kaypri says. "Her life, all of a sudden, became a big part of my life."

Kaypri decided she would become her primary caregiver and move in with her as well as help her finish the book.

The book was published in 2014 for Dorothy's 80th birthday and was well received.

Cover image of the book, "I Didn't Know What I Didn't Know."

As Dorothy's dementia progressed, Kaypri continued being her caregiver while keeping up a writing, acting, and producing career of her own.

Being a primary caregiver for anybody is tough, heartbreaking work. But it can also be incredibly rewarding.

Kaypri doesn't see caring as a burden. “I’m the only family she has left," she says. "That woman did everything for me. Now, it’s my turn.”

Since more than 40 million family caregivers help another adult or loved one carry out daily activities, it’s become one of the most important — and often, unsung — roles in our society. It's not easy, though. More than half of family caregivers report being overwhelmed by the needs of their family member.


GIF via Ad Council/AARP.

Here are some self-care tips to keep in mind:

  1. Eat properly. It's so easy to slip into the fast-food lifestyle when life is so demanding, but you'll feel better — and think better — with proper, balanced meals.
  2. Exercise every day. For most of us, it's the first thing that goes out the door.
  3. Take a break outdoors. Being inside all day and night can get to be really harmful to your psyche. See the sun, water, and trees for at least a bit every day.
  4. Sleep. Nap when your loved one naps. Get a full eight hours at night if you can.
  5. Treat yourself. That is, address your own medical and emotional problems that crop up as soon as you can before things get out of hand.

Most important? Ask for help if you're overwhelmed or just need a break.

The number of family caregivers is only going to go up as more Baby Boomers age into retirement.

Kaypri's words in this video about being in that role for her mother are joyful, heartbreaking, lovely, and touching.

But they’re very real.


Kaypri doesn't have kids yet, and if she does, they may not ever meet their grandmother. But her legacy will live on.

"They will know her through her words because she dared to write them down," Kaypri says. "She raised a writer who could finish the story she started."

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