Tag Archives: caregiving

Farewell to Steve Dezember, who shared his ALS battle with the world

While coronavirus is claiming so many lives around the world, this week I am mourning a metro Atlanta man, Steve Dezember, who died this week after a 9-year battle with ALS.

I don’t use the term “battle” lightly and am aware of the negative connotation such terminology can engender. But in this case, I believe the term applies. Steve showed courage, grace and humor as he fought back time and time again against all odds. I have followed Steve’s story for years after watching the moving documentary, Hope for Steve.

I’ve also followed the social posts from his wonderful, equally courageous and compassionate wife Hope has shared about the challenging ALS caregiving journey that are so enlightening. I love how she embraced the importance of self-care and wasn’t shy about sharing the difficulties along with the triumphs of being a long-term caregiver. The couple also shared the financial challenges that a disease like ALS creates. Steve made paintings from his wheelchair and Hope also created a variety of art that they used as fundraisers to support his care. A painting of his hangs on the wall of my bedroom.

steve painting

Following Steve’s journey over the years has made me more appreciative of having good health and in enjoying the simple pleasures of life. It made me admire the sacrifices that spousal caregivers make to tend to their loved ones. And even though this world can seem like a miserable world to be sometimes, watching Steve fight for another day offered an important perspective.

If you have the means, consider donating to an ALS charity in the name of Steve Dezember. Learn more about his journey and share his story. Keep his lovely wife Hope in your thoughts and prayers.

I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe during this challenging time.

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How technology can be an ally to caregivers

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Google’s Super Bowl commercial, “Loretta,” touched a nerve. I was very moved by the love story the commercial told, inspired by the grandfather of a Google employee. The ad shows how technology (in this case, Google Assistant) can be put to good use, allowing a man to fondly remember his late wife through images and sound. Many people felt the same way I did about the commercial, but a vocal minority expressed their reservations.

While I can understand people’s concerns about privacy rights and the automation of our lives, we can’t let our fears trump the benefits that technology can offer. For example, in this commercial from Google, a simple tool offered many benefits, especially to older generations and their caregivers.

  • Digital photo album: While those of us of a certain age may treasure our physical photos, we have to understand that for younger generations, digital photographs are the norm. I love looking at old photos in physical form, but I also love having access to those same images online. It also makes sharing from afar so simple. In this day and age, when family members often don’t live near one another, this can be a major benefit.
  • Using reminders to prompt memories: While critics found this feature creepy, those of us who have dealt with dementia in our families know how precious memories can be. I know of a family caregiver who writes out cards with explanations to the daily questions she receives from her mother who has dementia. The cards are a great source of comfort to her mother (and sanity-saving for the family!) A smart assistant could recite the recorded answers.
  • Combatting loneliness: This point is controversial, as I read one commenter who interpreted the Google commercial to mean that we have permission to leave old lonely people on their own with a smart device as a substitute to visiting them. I don’t interpret the ad like that at all. But loneliness among the elder population, especially in rural areas, is a real concern. Anything we can do to alleviate that isolation can be beneficial both mentally and physically. My mother had a talking parrot toy she talked to when Dad moved to the memory care center. The need is there for such interactive devices.

I strongly feel it is in our best interest to embrace technology while holding companies accountable when they violate privacy rights and engage in other nefarious activities. Bottom line, technology is not going away. I prefer to educate myself and others on the benefits and be a responsible user versus burying my head in the doomsday bunker.

 

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Challenges of dying at home, revisited

This week, NPR aired Patients Want To Die At Home, But Home Hospice Care Can Be Tough On Families, the national version of a story that first appeared last year on Nashville’s NPR affiliate. I was interviewed for this series, and shared my personal challenges in tending to my dying mother at home.

This is such an important conversation for the nation to have and it is a cause near and dear to my heart. As I state in the story, I am not anti-hospice by any means. My father died in a facility and that was a horrible death. But caring for my mother who died at home had its own unique challenges. Both experiences scarred me for life, leaving me with regrets and with a mission to help other families avoid the mistakes my family made.

I encourage everyone to read and/or listen to this series and think about your own situation. Family caregivers need to be clear-eyed about the demands they may face in caring for a loved on at home at the end of life. It can be the most tender of bonding moments, a final act of love and sacrifice for a beloved family member. Knowing the pitfalls and identifying potential gaps in care ahead of time can help you from becoming overwhelmed and burned out.

Finally, for those who did not have a good experience with home hospice care, know that you are not alone and it’s not your fault. Forgive yourself for anything you may be blaming yourself for (I’m still working on this part.) Your loved one would want you to let go and move on, free of guilt.

 

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Bathroom Safety Tips For Seniors — The Diary of An Alzheimer’s Caregiver


Good tips! It’s so easy to overlook all of the alterations needed to keep an elder loved one, especially one with dementia, safe in the bathroom. My mother did not have dementia, but she fell and broke her shoulder while using the toilet in the middle of the night. She never fully recovered from that injury, and her mobility was limited because of it. Falls in the bathroom are all too common, so beware the risks and take action to keep your loved one safe.

Sign up to get these posts and a whole lot more delivered right to your inbox! The Diary of An Alzheimer’s Caregiver – Appreciate the good, laugh at the crazy, and deal with the rest! A primary concern of senior citizens is whether they can continue to live independently as they get older. Their loved…

via Bathroom Safety Tips For Seniors — The Diary of An Alzheimer’s Caregiver

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January 16, 2020 · 4:36 pm

Caregiver shortage expected to grow, must address issue now

 

Hope everyone had a good holiday and that your new year is off to a good start.

The fact that there is a caregiver shortage is not new; however  a Quartz article posted this week has put the issue back on the national radar. The article cites the slowing population growth, along with increased longevity and a decrease in immigration among the issues that will potentially trigger a caregiving crisis. By 2030, that shortage may grow to more than 100,000 caregivers for the elderly, according to Quartz.

Here are some ways we could address this major healthcare issue:

  • Pay caregivers a livable wage: In order to recruit new generations into a caregiving career, we’re going to have to revamp the woefully inadequate pay scale. Professional caregivers deserve to have decent pay, benefits, and access to training and educational opportunities to grow in their fields. Caregiving should no longer be a job of last resort; it should be a career choice one takes pride in.
  • Immigration policies: We need a fair immigration policy that offers those interested in becoming U.S. citizens an opportunity for a stable career in a field with severe shortages. Too often, immigrants who become caregivers, especially those with questionable legal status, are taken advantage of and paid below minimum wage without benefits.
  • Offer incentives: Just like with geriatric or rural medicine, caregiving is not a “sexy” career choice. Certainly it can be rewarding, but in order to fill the large care gap we may need to get innovative. I’m a fan of the Care Corps concept, and a student loan forgiveness program in exchange for serving as a caregiver could attract candidates.
  • Offer better support for family caregivers: Realistically, the bulk of caregiving duties will likely continue to fall on family members. We need to support them better, by employers offering flexible work schedules and the government embracing universal family care. A tax credit would help some with the financial hit family caregivers suffer.

There is no easy fix, but we definitely need to keep pushing this topic into the general conversation and advocate for common-sense actions and programs to alleviate the caregiving shortage and burden on family members.

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Caregiving goals for a new decade

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Gerhard Gellinger/Pixabay

A new decade is upon us. It’s hard to believe that we are about to begin not only a new year, but a new decade.

Caregiver advocacy will remain a focus of mine, because there is so much work that remains to be done. We’ve definitely made some progress over the last 10 years, but here are the main areas I’d like to see positive movement in over the next 10 years.

Respite care: Caregivers need regular breaks, plain and simple. Sadly, many caregivers never get a break, leading to burnout and increasing their risk of becoming ill and needing care. We need to break that vicious cycle, but there are no easy answers. Respite care requires care providers and facilities that can step in and care for a loved one while the caregiver takes a break. Many communities lack such services or have very limited services. I’d like to see more funding, at the federal and state level, and some innovation in this area to bridge the care gaps and give caregivers the breaks they so deserve.

Support in the workplace: Caregivers are hard workers, but the time they may need to take away from their job in order to care for loved ones puts their careers at risk. It shouldn’t be this way. Not all jobs can be done remotely, but for those that can, employers need to dedicate resources and support teleworking for caregivers. Alternative schedules and flexible schedules is also essential in the modern workplace. We need to allow caregivers to earn a living and provide care for their loved ones. Universal family care would address many of these issues. No one should have to quit their job to become a family caregiver.

Effective Alzheimer’s treatment: There have been several disappointments over the last decade when it comes to drug trials that once held great promise in treating Alzheimer’s. Most have failed or underperformed. There is a threat that pharmaceutical companies may turn their focus to other diseases that may be easier to crack. But there are many bright minds in the scientific community who are dedicated to the cause. I won’t be so overly optimistic to hope for a cure, though that would be the best news of all. A treatment that could delay the most severe symptoms would be welcomed.

Better end-of-life care: If the previous decade has been about aging in place, the new decade should focus on how we are going to support end-of-life care, especially those who choose to die at home. From pain management to respite care to a lack of home hospice care in rural areas, we are not delivering the “good death”  that we are capable of as a society.

I wish you and your family a happy new year and hope this will be the beginning of a decade where we all can thrive and develop a more compassionate society.

 

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More Americans are dying at home, but family caregivers still lack support

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

The New York Times published an article this week that touched on a subject close to my heart. The article explores the impact of new data published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine that found more Americans are dying at home than in hospitals.

On the face of it, this sounds like good news. In poll after poll, the majority of people say they would prefer to die at home rather than in a hospital or nursing home. The tide now appears to be turning, and perhaps returning to a culture which embraces providing end-of-life care at home.

But the major challenge, which I’m grateful to reporter Gina Kolata for highlighting in her report, is the following: “Many terminally ill patients wind up in the care of family members who may be wholly unprepared for the task.”

This is something I’ve written about extensively, based upon my own family caregiving experience. My personal essay, Why Dying at Home is Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be, ruffled some feathers at the time. But my point wasn’t to be anti-home hospice. I think home hospice can be a wonderful service. The problem is that there are not enough home hospice service providers, especially in rural areas of this country. As the New York Times article discusses, this leaves family caregivers carrying the heavy burden of providing medical care for a dying loved one, while dealing with the financial cost and emotional toll of that experience. Most family caregivers are woefully unprepared.

“We have put a tremendous burden on families in the type of care they have to provide and the type they have to pay for,” said Dr. Sean Morrison, chair of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

With my parents, I experienced the worst of both kinds of deaths. My father died in a skilled nursing facility without any family members with him, and my mother died at home, with myself, the only child, providing her end-of-life care but lacking support from limited home health care services.

The New York Times article also discusses another downside of dying at home: pain management. My mother’s pain was not managed as well as it could’ve been in an institutional setting, and that will haunt me for the rest of my life. No one should have to suffer needlessly at the end of life.

If you want to learn more, I was interviewed recently on the challenges of dying at home by journalist Blake Farmer at WPLN, Nashville Public Radio.

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