Helping the Helpers

I read an article from the New York Times recently discussing the legions of family caregivers looking after elders.  In this article the primary caregiver is a 78-year-old women caring from her 85-year-old husband who as vascular dementia.  I have linked the full article on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/agefriendlyinnovation.  There are millions of these family caregivers nationwide including sons and daughters and other relatives.

This story is personal for me as my sister Barbara (Babs) was the caregiver for our mother for many years.  Although my mother was mentally alert almost to the end she had great difficulty walking and was very hard of hearing.    At the time Babs was a widow living alone in her small home in Camas, Washington.  When our father passed away it just made good sense for mom to move in with Babs.  I only wish that what Sharon and I know now about aging-in-place we had known when my mother moved in with Babs.

The home had narrow hallways and not-so-wide doors.  The only bathroom was microscopic and barely accommodated one adult, let alone two.  Mom’s son-in-law, a carpenter, did install a ramp to make it easier to get mom to the car for appointments.  Family caregiving is not a 9-5 job, it is 24/7 and by all accounts the toll on the caregiver is great.   The New York Times article cited a National Alliance for Caregiving report that found even caregivers over age 75 were putting in 40 hour weeks of care.  In reality, the job never ends as long as the loved one is at home.  Still for most families helping keep a aging loved one at home is preferable to a nursing home.

Inevitably my mother did have a condition that put her in the hospital for a period of time and then she was released to a rehabilitation facility.  At that point my siblings and I gathered and decided that mom could not go home to our sisters’.   It just wasn’t workable any more.  What we did was research adult foster homes in the Vancouver, Washington area where my sister and mother were living.  We found a facility that was more like a group home but with 24 hour care.  Mom had her own private bedroom, an accessible bathroom across the hall and well-prepared meals. The staff in that facility were very caring and came to love our mother very much.   On night, about a year after she moved into the adult family home, she went to sleep and didn’t wake up.  My other sister by her bedside.

I’m not sure what exact point I am trying to make with this story but I thought it worth sharing.  Our nonprofit, Age-Friendly Innovators, is all about helping people plan for the future…..whatever that future might bring.

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