For years, Marcy Sherman-Lewis went to a beauty salon in St. Joseph, Mo., every few weeks for a haircut and highlights.
It had become something of an ordeal to prepare her husband, Gene Lewis, for this outing; he has Alzheimer’s disease, at 79, and helping him shower and dress, insert hearing aids and climb into the car was a very slow process.
But she could no longer leave him at home alone. And once at the salon, “he just sat, watched TV, slept – didn’t bother anybody,” said Ms. Sherman-Lewis, 62. Her stylist kindly trimmed his hair, too.
Then last month, the salon owner took Ms. Sherman-Lewis aside. “Marcy, he makes my other patrons awfully uncomfortable,” she said.
“I was dumbfounded,” Ms. Sherman-Lewis said. “It’s O.K. for other people’s little grandchildren to be running around sometimes. What am I supposed to do, keep him in a crate in the car?”
Like so many caregivers, she has discovered that along with the abandoned career, the hands-on tasks, the medical scheduling, the insurance tussles and the disrupted sleep, she faces another trial: social isolation.
“It’s hurtful,” she said. “You need friends more than ever.”
But where are they? Betsey Brairton, 48, cares for her mother, Sue, in rural Olean, N.Y. The elder Ms. Brairton, 79, suffers from spinal stenosis, arthritis and lingering damage from a stroke, so she has limited mobility. “We hardly go anywhere, and nobody comes here,” said her daughter. When she does leave for an hour or two, she’s afraid to put down her cellphone.
Though a couple of friends occasionally invite her out for dinner, “I can’t commit to anything, in case my mom is having a bad day,” Ms. Brairton said. She has begun to worry that when she does spend time with others, her narrowing life leaves her with nothing interesting to say.