Saturday, September 22, 2012

How Are YOU Impacted by Eldercare?

A study released in June 2012 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that... "In 2011, 16 percent of the U.S. civilian noninstitutional population age 15 and over were eldercare providers... This and other information about eldercare providers and the time they spent providing care were collected for the first time in the 2011 American Time Use Survey (ATUS). This release also includes the average amount of time per day in 2011 that individuals spent in various activities, such as working, household activities, childcare, and leisure and sports activities."  Click here to read the full report... or go to for a great synopsis by AARP contributor Sally Abrahms.

I find these statistics provided by Ms. Abrahms to be particularly interesting...
  • 56% of the 39.8 million eldercare providers were women.
  • 23% of providers also had one or more kids at home under age 18.
  • One out of six people in the U.S., or 16% of the civilian noninstitutional population ages 15+, spent time helping elders, and
  • More than 60% of care for an older person came from someone age 45+; one-sixth by a person age 65+.
Please read the full article and see where YOU fit into this picture.  Eldercare is gaining recognition in this country... as it should!  As Ms. Abrahms points out, this will hopefully lead to increased support and lessened burdens for those who find themselves involved in eldercare.  I also am encouraged to see that many of the tasks we caregivers perform for the elderly are finally being recognized as "eldercare," such as providing housekeeping, meals and transportation, shopping, managing daily finances, and offering companionship.  For many years, "caregiving" has been considered by many to include more personal care... help with bathing and matters of personal hygiene, medical care, and physical therapy and assistance.

We had lunch yesterday with some friends we had not seen in a long time, and one of them asked, "What do you do these days?"  I laughed and told her, "We spend a lot of time taking care of others."  If you consider the time we actually spend in the physical presence of our elderly loved ones, it doesn't seem like they keep us all that busy.  But when I stop to consider the hours spent balancing checkbooks and paying bills, or shopping for personal items the ALF doesn't provide for my grandmother (like wet wipes and denture cleanser), it adds up.  I think about the morning I spent sorting clothing to find suitable warm outfits for fall and winter... and the hours I spent mending broken zippers and buttons that had fallen off of garments.  I look at the hours my husband spends mowing, trimming, weeding and fertilizing his mother's yard... or repairing broken appliances, replacing light bulbs, helping her decipher a bill or some financial decision... and even showing her pictures of her great-grandchildren on Facebook.  All of a sudden, there is little question about where the time goes!

While time-consuming and vital to daily living, the more "routine" activities that many of us take for granted, such as meal prep, balancing the checkbook and paying bills, and driving Grandma to the doctor or beauty shop, were not considered to fall under the umbrella of services offered by a bona fide "caregiver."  This is changing, thankfully.  Someone commented to the AARP article, saying he hoped that the government would do more than merely recognize that eldercare is real and vital.  This will take time.  The first step IS recognition - and awareness... and that's what I am trying to do, in part, on this blog.  By giving a voice to eldercare and the Sandwich Generation, we say, "Hey!  We're here, and this is how we are coping."  We can offer each other moral support and helpful suggestions, and we can be available for the next wave of caregivers who will surely join us.

As our population ages, this topic becomes even more important for all of us to consider.  How are you impacted by eldercare... and how might you be affected in the future? 

Friday, September 21, 2012

I Promise I Will See You Again!

The heat and drought of summer finally seem to be ending... and with the first couple of "cool snaps," I realized that Mam-ma's little house dresses were not going to be sufficiently warm for these autumn/winter days. So I decided to sort through all of her clothing that I brought home and see what I could find that would look nice, be warm, and stand up to an afternoon nap in bed. I found enough knits and velour and "sweats" to create outfits for eight days, and I hung the matching pants/tops/jackets together and toted them to the ALF, where I placed them in the closet alongside the house dresses and sweaters. I instructed the aides to use their best judgment, but on cooler days, please dress Mam-ma in pants. I also took warm pajamas for night-time.

Mam-ma has seemed okay, physically, but she has gotten steadily worse with her ability to get any words out. I sat with her on the porch one beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, and she was clearly restless. She normally loves the porch and being outside, but not this day. I finally gave up after about 30 minutes or more and took her back inside, and an aide put her to bed for a nap.

The next time I visited was probably the following Wednesday. My dad's first cousin had died in Texas, and the family was returning his body to Arkansas for burial. I told Mam-ma that he had passed away... and that he had been in a nursing home for a long time following a stroke, so this was not unexpected. She took it well, I thought.

Friday, I took the warm clothes. As I arrived, Mam-ma was being wheeled to speech therapy. I told the therapist I had work to do in the apartment, and that I would come down and get Mam-ma later. The therapist said, "Give us about an hour." Not long after she and Mam-ma left, some cousins arrived to visit. They had driven in from Texas for the visitation and funeral for the cousin who passed away. I kept them in the apartment for about 30 minutes, and then we went to the therapy room. The therapist told me Mam-ma was very tired ... that she had been falling asleep in the therapy session.

We went back to the apartment, and I positioned Mam-ma to talk with the cousins. I had told them to talk TO her... and she would respond with nods and such... and to talk to each other. After I got Mam-ma settled, I resumed my cleaning and sorting. You could have heard crickets. Nobody said anything. It was awful... and Mam-ma closed her eyes and either went to sleep - or she pretended to be sleeping. The cousins left, and I had an aide put Mam-ma to bed for a nap.

Later, I learned that yet another set of cousins had visited Friday morning (Mam-ma said they had not come). This cousin told me that she and her husband knelt in the floor in front of my grandmother and talked to her about old times... when they went with her and my grandfather and my dad to Indiana to work in the factories... funny things my grandfather used to say. She said Mam-ma smiled a lot - and even laughed a few times. THIS is how you talk to someone who cannot speak! And these cousins visited again on Tuesday before they left to return to their home in Texas. I was so grateful for their visits.

My mom visited Mam-ma a few times in the last 2 weeks, and so did my sister and I, and each time, we felt that her speech was certainly no better - and maybe worse... and that she was frustrated. The Hospice nurse told me that when she visited, Mam-ma cried and cried. Then on Tuesday, my mother-in-law had an "episode" that the doctors feel may have been a TIA. At age 86, with a strong family history of strokes, the ER doc admitted her to the hospital for observation and more tests. I am not sure the floor nurses were glad to see me again, but we were back, and they dealt with it!

So with all that had gone on this week, I had not visited Mam-ma all week... until today. I arrived at her apartment around 1:00 p.m. She was just leaving the dining room with her good friend, Bessie. I asked if she wanted to stay in her wheelchair, get in her recliner, or go to bed. She couldn't tell me. Finally I discerned she wanted in her recliner, and I told her to press her call button for an aide. She did, and she added, "I've got to go to the bathroom." The aide helped her with the bathroom and transferring into her recliner.

I sat on the bed, across from my grandmother's recliner. I tried to think of things to tell her... about a funeral visitation I had just attended for my high school Sunday school teacher... about the delicious muffins I made from a Pinterest recipe. I asked her if the cousins from Texas visited again (I knew they did)... and we talked about how nice it was to see them. Then she pointed her finger at me and tried to speak. She would open her mouth, point her finger, then close her mouth tightly as if she were disgusted, and put her hand down again. This scenario repeated over and again for about 30 minutes. I sat... and sat... and tried to guess. Once she got out "I tell you what..."

Finally, she got out something about "pressuring me..." and "pressuring you..." and I asked, "Someone is pressuring you?" Yes. "Pressuring you for what?" She couldn't tell me. I asked WHO is pressuring you... she couldn't tell me, but there was lots of pointing and trying. I guessed... the cousins? the aides? family members? Hospice? None of those. She was finally able to get out... "don't want to move." I surmised that she had it in her mind that she was going to have to move from the ALF. So I asked questions along this line, and she nodded "yes" - this was the problem.

I reassured her as best I could that I am in charge... and I'm not signing anything for her to move... that if she lives a day or 10 years, she can stay in her apartment. She seemed to be satisfied with my response. We talked about how much the aides love her, and she said something really funny... "Well, don't take this the wrong way... but these girls like me." In other words, "I'm special, and I know it!" That was a huge sentence for her... and very funny.

One day this week I talked with our nephew Timothy, and he begged to come to our house. "Aunt Debbie... I need to come to your house," he would say. "I don't want to stay in Texas." I assured him over and again that very soon, we will see each other again. But I don't know how "soon" this will be... and to a three-year-old, a week is an eternity. It must be the same for 100-year-olds, too, because as I hugged Mam-ma and kissed her "good-bye" today, she started to cry. "I... can't... hardly... stand... it..." she sobbed. I sat back down and looked at her... "You can't hardly stand what?" "I... can't... hardly... stand... it when you leave," she replied.

Now I realize that my grandmother still likes to press my buttons... and she doesn't do this to anyone else who visits... but in that moment, I was right back reassuring Timothy that we will see each other again soon. "I'll be back soon," I explained to her. "I've been gone a lot this week, and I'm so behind at home. I have a lot I need to do there." Again, I was explaining things to her much like I explained to Timmy that he has "work" to do to help his mom with his little sister and brother. Oh, the parallels continue to amaze me!

Granted, the sentences my grandmother uttered today were HUGE in the scheme of things of late... and I'm not sure if speech therapy gets the credit, or if it was a fluke.  I know that there is still incredible frustration there... and few words.  I am studying the Book of James, and one of the passages in recent days dealt with patience... and God's timing.  Today, my lesson was on the power - and importance - of humble, faithful prayer.  I am constantly reminded that I am not truly in control... and that's a good thing.  Meanwhile, I am trusting God's promises... including the one that I will see loved ones again... both on this earth, and in heaven.  And so I pray... and wait... and hope.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

One Ringy-Dingy...

When I visited Mam-ma Polly yesterday, I found her cordless phone in the floor behind her night stand.  Honestly, she has not spoken to anyone by phone in months, and it would be virtually impossible for her to do so now.  I have left the phone in her room more for her peace of mind... an assurance that not everything has changed.  But in reality, everything has changed, and the fact that her phone was on the floor behind her night stand told me that Mam-ma doesn't even notice.  Removing the phone will actually give her more space on the night stand for things that do matter now, like her drink cup.

So this morning, I called AT&T and disconnected my grandmother's phone service.  The number that has belonged to my grandparents all of my 55 years, and probably longer, no longer belongs to them.  I have to admit, it was a bittersweet moment.

A speech therapist is working on papers to qualify my grandmother for her assistance... to see if there is anything that can be done to help Mam-ma get out at least a few coherent sentences.  It's worth a shot.  We believe she knows what she wants to say, and LORD knows she certainly tries to talk... but the words just will not come.  Her frustration is clearly evident... and often she simply cries.  Through gritted teeth, she told the Hospice nurse yesterday, ""

I don't know what will happen in the next few weeks/months.  I've reserved a room at the ALF for a 100th birthday party for Mam-ma on November 4th (her birthday is actually the 5th, but that's a Monday).  This morning, I sent the requisite application form and photo to Willard Scott, in hopes he will recognize Mam-ma on the TODAY show on her birthday.  While these things have to be done well in advance, I know there is every chance that the birthday celebration will never happen... and that is fine with all of us, because I know that an even bigger and better celebration will be taking place... in Heaven.

For now, I will remove the phone and remind any who might still try to call my grandmother that she can no longer communicate with them in this fashion.  I hope whoever gets this number next enjoys using it as much as she did... and has even half as long a run with it.