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  • Nov 03, 2019

A personal story of caring for a loved one

Caregiving is an enormous responsibility, especially caring for a frail older adult.

By Roberta Dignan Robinson, director of marketing and outreach, Geriatrics.

I grew up in West Roxbury (Mass.), married, had four children and later moved to Pelham, New Hampshire. Even though we left, I commuted back and forth to Boston as a paralegal for eleven years. Sometimes it was pretty grueling!

At the same time, my mother was aging in place and her health began to decline. I began managing her home care while living 60+ miles away and made frequent trips to ensure her needs were being met. It was difficult for both of us and I realized that in order to care for her and make sure she was living a healthy life, I needed to be close to her in Boston.

Soon after, I came back to West Roxbury (not yet in my mother’s home) and began work at the Boston Commission on the Affairs of the Elderly. Then one week my mother had several emergencies, including a nasty fall. She was in and out of the hospital. It became clear that I needed to move in with her and be on-call 24/7.

Over the next five years, my mother’s health continued to decline. There was incident after incident that led to the hospital, rehab and then back home. Each setback caused her health to worsen. During the first year, a case manager explained to us that it was the beginning of the end. But it was a slow decline and was incredibly stressful. There was no one to help guide me through the process. I wanted to do the right thing for her, but I just didn’t know what that was.

In the end, it was like a switch had been flipped. My mother required around-the-clock care. I had to support her day and night while maintaining a full-time job. I was doing it all.

Caregiving is an enormous responsibility, especially caring for a frail older adult. Thankfully, we had in-home nursing assistants. I called them our angels. We could not have done it without them and I made sure to celebrate them during the holidays with gifts and food. They were an integral part of my family and I appreciated the help and care that they so generously gave.

The world of elder services can be an incredible maze. I was attempting to manage my mother’s health, locate resources and educate myself on support systems. I felt like a bumper car, getting thrashed around daily.

I learned a great deal over this time. First, if you are caring for an older adult, get them plugged into a community to promote a healthier life. This network, whether it’s faith-based, an adult day health center, or a housing community, will provide value. Isolation is the worst enemy for seniors.

Furthermore, explore and choose the right senior health program. This could be PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly), Senior Care Options, or other resources through the local elder services agency. These services make a major difference for everyone involved.

Below are a few additional tips from Jonathan Burns, MD, medical director of the CHA Elder Service Plan:

  • Find support. No one can do it alone. A combination of caring families, friends, neighbors, and professional services helps.
  • Make time for yourself. Try the local Council on Aging or Benefits-Checkup to see what options are available for respite care and other services. Organizations like the American Cancer Society or the Alzheimer's Associationmay be able to link you with low-cost or free programs and services. AARP and government publications can guide you to caregiver services and long-term options.
  • Ask for help. It’s okay to tell friends and family that caregiving is too much and that you need help. Ask them to brainstorm solutions. Try to accept help when it’s offered. Sometimes getting a few things in place, like transportation, food, or medical appointments, can make a big difference.
  • Lean on friends. Ask friends if you can use them as a sounding board. If just one person in your circle can do this, try not to burden him or her. Consider other ways of seeking support. A religious community can be a source of comfort and emotional support.
  • Join a support group. Many organizations, hospitals, health organizations, and religious groups offer support groups for caregivers. These groups are a good place to vent and share ideas with people facing similar situations. Some groups are online, which can be easier for homebound caregivers.
  • Consider therapy. Sometimes therapy can help if you feel overwhelmed and sad about caregiving. If you don’t know where to turn, ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Make time to grab dinner with friends, go to a movie, take a walk and laugh a little. Keep your battery charged so you can provide care to a loved one.

Do you know someone 55+ who needs extra support to stay healthy in their home and community? The Cambridge Health Alliance PACE program provides the health care and social supports older adults need. Call 617-575-5850 and ask for a member of the Enrollment Team to learn more.

This articles provide general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this article, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider.

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