Category Archives: Awareness & Activism

Disturbing case highlights need for dementia training for law enforcement

Video courtesy of The Life & Liberty Law Office

UPDATE: A second video in this case was released this week, showing the police reaction back at the station. It is almost equally as disturbing. In my opinion, this isn’t a case of “gallows humor” used as a coping mechanism by those in law enforcement, health care, etc. who face daily traumas. As a journalist, I often find that dark humor in private exchanges can help buffer the pain of covering a terrible crime story. But laughing and boasting about injuring an older woman’s shoulder while making “pop” sound effects displays an utter lack of humanity and should make one unfit to serve in any role involving the public. Would any of these officers want their elder relatives treated and mocked in such a way? It also reinforces the urgent need for better training and accountability.

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A case in Colorado involving the arrest of a 73-year-old woman with dementia for attempted shoplifting grabbed national headlines this week. It disturbed me personally because my father was in a similar situation. I believe many dementia caregivers fear this situation for their loved ones and we must do better as a community to protect those with dementia from ending up in this heartbreaking situation.

Karen Garner, 73, filed a lawsuit this week against the city of Loveland and its police officers. The incident took place in June 2020. Garner is accused of attempting to walk out of a Walmart with $14 worth of merchandise without paying. Walmart employees stopped her and were able to retrieve all items. According to the lawsuit, she offered to pay for the items at that point but the store declined, instead calling police to report the incident and offer the location in which Garner began walking. Store employees told police that the store had suffered no loss, according to the lawsuit and video of the arrest.

You can watch for yourself what happens next, as a police officer tracks down Garner. Warning: It is disturbing.

Garner is 5 feet tall and weighs 80 pounds. According to the lawsuit, her shoulder was dislocated during the arrest and she now requires assistance with daily tasks like bathing. She didn’t receive medical care until several hours later, though she complained of pain during the arrest. The criminal case against her was dropped by the district attorney’s office, while no disciplinary actions were taken against the officers until this week, when the lawsuit was filed and the video of the arrest went viral.

There is so much wrong here, and it starts way before the officers arrived. First and foremost is that America does a poor job in how it interacts with those who are mentally ill in the public sphere. I don’t know if Walmart has a blanket policy on calling police when minor incidents like this one happen in which a shoplifting attempt is thwarted, but this could have all been avoided if they had handled the situation internally. Ask if a family member can be called to pick her up and speak to them. Ban her from the store. Take a photo of her and post it in employee areas so staff know to be aware.

Police departments need better training in interacting with those with dementia and with mental health challenges in general. This arrest of Garner was a waste of law enforcement time and resources, and demonstrates the urgent need for engaged community policing.

And of course we need better resources for those with dementia. We don’t know Garner’s personal situation, if she was still attempting to live alone without regular supervision or if she wandered away. Both are common scenarios, and leave family members fearful for their loved one’s safety. With many adult day programs shut down due to COVID-19, there is likely an increase of those with dementia who feel bored and restless. While there are privacy concerns, offering identification that one has dementia could be helpful. The officer looked through Garner’s wallet about midway through the arrest. If there had been a card that said, “I have dementia. Please call this number for assistance,” the officers may have responded differently.

I thought about a similar incident with my father. I talk about the “burrito incident” in my book, The Reluctant Caregiver, and how it became a turning point in our family. He was at the stage of Alzheimer’s where his symptoms were becoming more apparent, but he still wanted to be independent. My mother sent him on an errand to pick up some items at a nearby convenience store, where they were regular customers. He picked up a couple of burritos and tried to walk out without paying. The clerk stopped him and my father got verbally agitated. Fortunately my mother was called instead of the cops and she hurried down to handle things. I believe my father would have ended up like Garner if the police had been called. Perhaps even worse.

None of this is easy. Police officers are not mental health experts, nor are store clerks. The pandemic has disrupted funding and access to community services. But it is clear in this particular case that no justice was served. I hope this case can demonstrate how broken our community services are for those with dementia and other mental health challenges and inspire solutions that are based in common sense and compassion.

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Understanding care as part of infrastructure

We finally had infrastructure week in which President Biden’s infrastructure plan was unveiled to the public. One area of the ambitious plan has some people raising their eyebrows: “Solidify the infrastructure of our care economy.”

Traditionally infrastructure has referred to maintaining roads and bridges, along with other transit-oriented projects like airports and ports. Infrastructure is also often used to refer to essential services like water supply systems and power grids. All of these things are addressed in Biden’s plan. On the surface, caregiving may seem unrelated to how we typically define infrastructure. But make no mistake that care is just as essential to our wellbeing as the roads we use to travel and the electricity we use to power our homes.

As this editorial by Ai-Jen Poo and Heather McCullouch points out, we need to invest in the “systems of support for human capital” so that we can help people get back to work and revive the economy post-pandemic. Just as our roads need repair, so does the way we support citizens who are caring for family members. Biden’s plan focuses on the expansion of home and community care services, which is long overdue. So many caregivers are struggling right now, and the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the need for additional support. Expanding services like childcare, elder care and care for those with disabilities would not only create new jobs, but would help family caregivers get back to work themselves.

Like most people, I want my taxpayer dollars to be spent in an efficient manner on essential programs. In my opinion, caregiving is just as essential as clean drinking water, electricity and roads. Our population, much like our physical infrastructure, is aging and in need of support. Care advocates like Poo have long championed viewing caregiving as an essential sector of the economy that deserves investment. I couldn’t agree more.

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Pandemic sparks discussion about end-of-life care options

Over a half-million deaths later, Americans may finally be ready to have more frank discussions about death. It is long overdue, and it pains me that it took a deadly pandemic to raise awareness, but perhaps it can be an important legacy of those who we’ve lost over the last year.

I’ve long championed the need to have “the talk” with elder loved ones, and how my parents’ refusal to discuss their end-of-life wishes created unintended but very real consequences. You can read more about my challenges in my collection of personal essays, The Reluctant Caregiver.

The pandemic showed us what many of us don’t want for our deaths: to be alone with no loved ones present, to be hooked up to machines, to die in a hospital instead of at home, to not be given a proper funeral or farewell ceremony. Hopefully we will take time to reflect upon these tragic, lonely deaths and take action now to better articulate what we would like the final phase of our life to look like.

Some may want to consider a death doula. Practically speaking, death doulas are helpers in all aspects of end-of-life care, from the bodily aspects of the dying process to spiritual concerns. They can assist with logistical issues, such as whether a client would prefer to die at home or in a hospice facility, and help coordinate burial and funeral plans. Doulas can serve as a comforting presence for both the dying and their grieving family. While it may seem awkward to bring in a stranger to what is considered a private family affair, having a compassionate, but clear-eyed presence can be a great benefit in an emotionally-charged setting. To learn more about this option, the International End of Life Doula Association offers a Doula Directory.

If you have not done so already, I hope you will take this time to think about how you’d like your end-of-life care to look and document those wishes. Encourage your loved ones to do the same. The coronavirus pandemic denied many the opportunity for a “good” death but by being more open in discussing a previously taboo subject, we can hopefully move towards a better end-of-life experience for all.

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Alzheimer’s Insights: Longer days ahead can affect different aspects of our physical and psychological health — L’Observateur

We will turn our clocks forward this coming weekend, officially at two a.m. on Sunday, March 14.  Of course, no one does it at that precise time.   The general practice is just to move clocks ahead an hour when you go to sleep Saturday night, and don’t forget the clock in your vehicle! For most of us, […]

Alzheimer’s Insights: Longer days ahead can affect different aspects of our physical and psychological health — L’Observateur

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2021 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures

While always a sobering overview, I believe it is important to review the annual analysis that the Alzheimer’s Association releases.

READ: 2021 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures

Some important takeaways:

  • More than 6 millions Americans are living with Alzheimer’s
  • Over 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias
  • 1 in 3 American seniors die with Alzheimer’s or other dementia
  • This year, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the nation $355 billion
  • The value of the care unpaid Alzheimer’s caregivers provide is $257 billion

One other important statistic to note is the racial disparity in care. Discrimination in the health care setting can prevent or delay people getting the care they need. Half of Black Americans report such discrimination. Over 40 percent of Native Americans reported discrimination. Over a third of Hispanic and Asian Americans reported discrimination. I would also add to this the discrimination that women face in healthcare settings. Discrimination can take many forms, including a doctor not taking complaints of pain as seriously and assuming a symptom is emotional vs. physical in nature. I remember my own mother suffering at the hands of doctors who did not take her cancer pain seriously, instead assuming she was drug seeking.

As caregivers, we must be vocal and tireless advocates when faced with such discrimination. Don’t be afraid to ask for a different doctor if you are uncomfortable or dissatisfied with the care being provided. I’ve read many accounts from adult children who sought treatment for their elder parents with signs of dementia but the doctors shrugged off symptoms as the elder was able to present well for the duration of the appointment. Be persistent. While there is no miracle treatment for Alzheimer’s or other dementias, there are medications and treatments which may help in the earlier stages. That is why receiving a correct and timely diagnosis is crucial.

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Do you have a winter weather caregiving plan?

As a former resident of Texas, I have closely monitored the widespread power outages caused by winter storms this week. Having experienced the vicious ice storms that can strike North Texas, I am not surprised, but saddened. Texas and the entire southern region of the United States are ill prepared to handle a lengthy, severe winter blast. Governments in these states are reluctant to invest significant money to prepare for a weather event that typically only happens once every several years.

The power is slowly being restored and conditions should begin to improve in Texas. There will be calls to hold officials and utilities accountable, to better winterize the equipment so a catastrophe like this doesn’t happen again. But caregivers need a plan of their own to keep themselves and loved ones safe. If there can be any positives to come of of the crisis in Texas, it is that people will be prompted to think about their own situation and how they would survive if faced with such dire circumstances. Here are some things to consider.

  • Stay or evacuate: There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to evacuate before a significant weather event. While most people would rather remain in their homes, a loved one’s medical condition may determine what is the safest approach. Does your loved one need routine medical care, such as dialysis, that is provided at a facility? Hundreds of dialysis clinics lost power and water during the Texas storm and were unable to provide services. Does your loved one receive oxygen or on a machine that requires electricity? Rolling blackouts in Texas left some caregivers in fear of medical equipment failure. If you plan to ride out the storm, do you have the space to stock up on shelf-stable food, medications and medical supplies?
  • Power and clean water sources: In Texas, the two main issues are the lack of power, which means people can’t heat their homes, and a lack of clean water, due to frozen pipes and water treatment plant issues. As a caregiver, are you prepared to tackle these problems? Do you have a reliable backup power source like a generator? Do you have ample fuel to run such equipment? If you have a fireplace, do you have enough wood and do you know how to operate it? Do you have a supply of drinking water stored or a clean water source? People are getting creative in Texas, boiling snow to use as a water source but experts warn that this still carries health risks.
  • Evacuating after the storm: You’ve probably seen the videos of cars going sideways trying to navigate their neighborhood’s icy streets. Removing snow from walkways and digging out cars is strenuous, and can even trigger heart attacks. Will you be able to evacuate yourself and your loved ones safely if you need to leave after a winter storm strikes? Those living in rural areas may find roads to be impassable, due to heavy snow, ice or fallen trees. Road crews focus on the highways, meaning your neighborhood streets will likely not be treated. Plan your evacuation route ahead of time.
  • Reach out for help: Don’t wait until disaster strikes. If you have concerns about how you and the loved ones you care for will fare in a winter storm, address them now. Talk to other family members, neighbors, church members, etc. and make a safety plan. Talk to your loved one’s doctor if you need assistance in coordinated medical care during inclement weather. While one can hope to never have to implement such a plan, having these resources available during a crisis can make all of the difference.

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Rural areas finds winning formula for vaccine distribution

Photo by Artem Podrez on Pexels.com

I spend quite a bit of time on this blog discussing the challenges of delivering health care, and in particular, elder care, in rural regions of America. But I want to highlight a recent success story: West Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccination system.

West Virginia, one of the country’s poorest states and ravaged by the opioid epidemic, seems an unlikely source when it comes to innovations in health care. As of this week, 11 percent of West Virginia’s population has received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In comparison, wealthier states such as Massachusetts and California have only vaccinated 7 percent of their populations. Of course population size has an impact, but considering the bumpy rollout of the vaccine nationally, it’s a fairly impressive feat.

What is the key to West Virginia’s success? Simplicity. The state has opted to manage their vaccine program closely at the state level, instead of delegating the entire complex process to county or city governments like many other states. Vaccine supply is distributed to five hospitals in different areas of the state, which then distribute it to local agencies and medical centers familiar with administering other vaccination programs such as the flu vaccine. They’ve also leaned on the state’s National Guard forces for their logistical expertise.

The centralized approach avoids some of the complications that can arise even with well-meaning collaborations from outside agencies. For example, West Virginia was the only state to opt out of a federal partnership with pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS that assisted states in getting nursing home residents and workers vaccinated. West Virginia instead utilized the local pharmacies throughout their state and were able to complete the process before many states had even began, according to The Washington Post.

West Virginia isn’t the only success story. Rural communities in other states also have shared their vaccination success stories, many using old school tools like the phone and word of mouth to reach out to residents directly. There is often a collaborative effort in small towns, where everyone from the public health officials to firefighters and librarians willing to jump in and do their part, Reuters reported.

The vaccination effort is leading to a decline in nursing home coronavirus cases, according to health officials.

It’s a good thing these rural communities have found a way to get a jump start on vaccinating their residents, as the lack of medical care resources means those who develop coronavirus may not get the specialized treatment they need in time or have to be moved far out of the area. There is also an increasing worry that issues with vaccination supply may mean rural areas have to wait longer for additional supplies, while urban and suburban areas catch up.

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Finding a Live-In Arrangement That Works — Dealing with Dementia

Plan ahead for your elder loved ones who live alone and wish to age in place. You will want to take your time in vetting care workers and finding one that is the right fit. Kay Bransford offers helpful tips on her blog.

Most of the individuals I work with that are still in their home want to stay there. The ongoing COVID issues have made many individuals and their families second guess community care. 472 more words

Finding a Live-In Arrangement That Works — Dealing with Dementia

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Navigating the COVID-19 vaccine maze for you and your elder loved ones

The good news is that COVID-19 vaccines have been developed in record time and are being rolled out to the public. The bad news is that the distribution of the vaccines is off to a rocky start.

Front-line health care workers and nursing home residents are supposed to be top priority when it comes to the first phase of vaccine distribution, according to federal officials. The problem is that the coordination and management in distributing the vaccines has been left to local governments, meaning each city/county/state has their own rules on how the public can sign up to get the vaccine. New York City residents report facing a ton of red tape in trying to make an appointment. Some regions have online only appointment systems, which can be a roadblock for those who are not tech savvy. The strict temperature requirements for the vaccines mean that in certain cases, places open up vaccinations to anyone, in order to avoid having to discard spoiled doses. The chaos that has ensued and the lack of efficient communication at the local level has left some elders to contact their local media outlets for assistance in setting up a vaccine appointment.

In short, it’s a mess. I do have some hope that more stable leadership at the federal level will help iron out the vaccination rollout. Getting the pandemic under control will be the top priority, and there should be a greater willingness to partner with local governments to support the success of their vaccination programs. This truly needs to be a group effort. The more effective the vaccination program is, the quicker people can return to the lives they cherish, including spending time with family and supporting the businesses in their community.

So if you are an elder or an elder caregiver, where do you begin? Start with your family physician, who can confirm which vaccine phase group you are in, and offer a general timeline on when you may be eligible to receive the vaccine. Next, reach out to your local health department. Policy & Medicine offers this state-by-state list of local health department resources. Be patient, as websites and hotlines are overwhelmed right now. As the vaccine stockpile grows, there will be more places that will offer the vaccine, including pharmacy chain stores like CVS. Finally, don’t skip the second (booster) shot! It is necessary for the vaccines currently available to the public. I’ve seen several news reports of a steep decline in the rate of people returning to get their second vaccine dose. While a single dose will offer some protection, two doses are necessary for the most effective protection. Johnson & Johnson is working on a single dose vaccine, which hopefully will gain approval soon.

If you or your loved one has received the vaccine, please comment below about your experience.

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Care issues to receive holistic approach in new administration

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There are no adequate words to describe what America has experienced over the past week. But it is important to not lose sight that a new administration will be sworn in later this month, and while they will have their hands full with dealing with the aftermath of an attempted violent overthrow of our government and a raging pandemic, there is optimism that the Biden-Harris administration recognizes the need for a comprehensive plan to address caregiving issues. Joe Biden has been a caregiver, so he understands the issue at a personal level. Kamala Harris supported domestic workers’ issues while serving in the Senate. With a slim Democratic majority in both houses, there is a greater chance that some of these initiatives will become law. Let’s take a brief look at how the Biden-Harris administration wants to address caregiving issues. The complete Biden-Harris caregiving plan is available online.

  • Holistic approach: Care needs across the age spectrum will not be separated but addressed in a holistic fashion. Many families members are a member of the “sandwich generation,” caring for children and for aging relatives at the same time. There has long been a greater focus on childcare in this country in comparison to aging issues and I hope this imbalance will be corrected.
  • Building infrastructure of care: Biden’s plan is designed to address shortcomings in many areas of caregiving by reforming certain programs and launching new initiatives. For aging care, this would include providing more support for aging in place services, in part by reforming Medicaid and reducing the wait list and by establishing a fund to pay for home care and community care. Biden would seek to increase the caregiver workforce by offering better pay and basic benefits such as health care and paid leave. Tax credits and social security credits for caregivers would also be considered. Veterans and people of color would receive special attention to address past inequities.
  • Public health jobs corps: I’m particularly interested in the formation of a public health jobs corps. While it first would assist with the COVID-19 pandemic, eventually the corps would be used to support community health programs. A public health corps that served rural areas could be huge in allowing aging loved ones to safely stay in their homes.
  • How much will it cost? The ambitious plan has a hefty price tag of $775 billion over a decade. While elements of the plan, like caregiver tax credits, may receive bipartisan support, there will be plenty of pushback from fiscal conservatives on other components of the plan. While I support taxpayer dollars being utilized in an efficient, prudent manner, I also think that caring for its citizens should be a top priority of any country.

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