Elder caregivers need help

Montrose Daily Press [May 15, 2015] Kathryn R. Burke

I just left the hospital. A close friend had a heart attack early this morning. She is 90 years old, and has been the sole Caregiver for her husband, who is 93, for over five years. His family does not offer assistance. She has had to struggle with this alone.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she told me just a few days ago. And today, in the hospital, she said, “I kept telling them, but they just didn’t get it.” Maybe, now they do?

Many of you probably know her. This woman is a whirlwind, normally a bundle of energy and involved in many senior causes and activities. It takes a lot to bring her down. But watching her husband fail, trying to do everything she possibly could to help him, then save him, took a heavy toll.

Alice (not her real name), is one of a growing number of elders caring for elders. As our population ages and medical procedures keep us alive much longer now than earlier generations, we face medical and moral issues unheard of just fifty years ago. When does loving care become ‘over care’? When is it OK to let go? Should you feel guilty if you do? Where do you find help, or even figure out what help you need or learn what is available? How much will it take to admit you do need it? How far should you go to keep someone alive? The cost to do that can be prohibitive; where does the money come from? Is it right to let money, or lack of it, guide your decisions about care or end-of-life choices?

We see this every day in our local senior community. Fortunately, we have a wide range of resources that can help. Yet, many caregivers in Alice’s situation don’t know where to find help, or even what to look for. And even if, like Alice, they do know what they might need and where to find help, it may be a case of too little, too late.

Because of her contacts and involvement in our senior community, Alice knew to contact ADRC at Region 10 and visit with Options Counselor Amy Rowan. “I asked her to help me get some counseling” (to help with moral issues). “She talked to me about home health care services, which would provide practical help at home and with transportation.” (Alice has poor eyesight.) “Amy also started me on the program ‘Dealing With Dementia’ (published by the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving), so I would be prepared for future care needs.” Region 10’s Ombudsman, Sandy Walker, helped her manage nursing home concerns.

For home help, Alice chose First Light Home Care (western Colorado). Together, she and First Light manager, Nichole Hudson, developed a care plan that began on a smaller scale, and eventually escalated to 24/7 care when it became necessary. Their staff performed various tasks from grocery shopping to helping Alice’s husband with personal grooming. For the past few weeks, as he recovered from surgery, they have been with him round the clock, at home, in a nursing home, and at the hospital. Working with his doctors, Alice stayed informed and directed his physical care and personal. She also learned what Hospice could or could not do and knew when to call them in to help.

Alice is no longer trying to go it alone, yet even with the resources she found, Alice is still overwhelmed and over-tired. She had continued to do too much on her own. And, it made her sick—an all-too-common happenstance for caregivers. Elder caregivers are especially vulnerable. The good news for Alice is that the community support she sought is still in place for her now, giving comfort to her husband, who passed away this evening, and comforting her while she is hospitalized and when she comes home again.

Kathryn R Burke is the author of The Caregiver’s Journey, Navigating the Path and The Caregiver’s Journey, Building Your Care Team. Both books are available at caregiver-journey.com, which also lists current speaking engagements and book signings.