During my 50+ years as an actor, I’ve played the head of a hospital in Chicago Hope, a wise hotel manager in Pretty Woman, head of security in The Princess Diaries and a fierce boss in ABC’s Last Man Standing. But, the toughest and most rewarding role I ever had to play was that of being a caregiver for my parents.
It was my mother who first needed care. She developed Alzheimer’s disease and my father stepped up to care for her. He even took her to work with him so he could make sure she was safe during the day. Eventually, my father felt overwhelmed and left his job to devote himself completely to her care. He was there for her every minute of every day, without a break to focus on himself and his own needs.
As a loving husband, my father never hesitated to take on this responsibility and he never complained. But, he also never reached out to the rest of the family to let us know that it was getting too much. We checked in with him every day but we didn’t realize the toll it was taking on his health. So, it came as a shock when he suffered a nervous breakdown and his immune system collapsed. Suddenly, it was not only my mother who needed a caregiver but my father as well.
I stepped in to give him more support. It started with simple tasks, like scheduling doctor’s visits or helping with daily errands. Gradually, over time, my role expanded. Before I knew it, my whole life had changed and my world was revolving around my parents’ care.
Now, I look back and wonder how I did it all.
At that time, I was starring on Broadway and was young and healthy. I didn’t recognize how exhausted I was. Caregivers often risk compromising their own health, like my father did, because they focus so much of their attention on another person.
In honor of my parents, I’m spreading the word about a national campaign from AARP and the Ad Council to help the 40 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S. get the support they need to care for themselves and their loved ones.
Many caregivers, especially men, don’t think of themselves as caregivers. They see themselves as sons, daughters, spouses and friends just doing what families do for each other. Like my father, they may not reach out for help until they exhaust themselves. They may not even know that there are resources available that can help.
AARP’s Caregiving Resource Center at aarp.org/caregiving offers practical tools and tips, such as Care Guides tailored to specific topics and challenges. It includes guides on how to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. There’s also information about local caregiving resources and an online community for sharing advice with other caregivers.
I wish my father and I would have known about resources like this years ago. Caregiving can be tough, but it can be a lot easier if you don’t to face it alone.
Hector Elizondo is an American film and TV actor who has been Golden Globe-nominated for his performance in Pretty Woman. He has written this post to help spread awareness of caregiver strain and burden and how help is available.