Caring for elderly parents
You will find that caregivers are the folks who just step right up when it comes to making sure someone is looking after mom or dad, no questions asked.
In the beginning, it may not seem like we’re doing much. Our frequent stops by just to say “hello,” to check and make sure that the house or apartment is not in disarray, that mom or dad is eating, and that they still are able to laugh and joke, frequently gets described as “just our way of mooching off the parent.”
Even when they become incontinent, combative, and the constant falling beings, and finally, some sort of terminal diagnosis is made, the feelings of ugliness between siblings usually are set in stone. We are insulted, because instead of a thank you we are treated like freeloaders. Our non-caregiving siblings so truly want to believe that we are somehow to blame for the financial drain the disease took, that forgiveness (for what, I am not sure) or an apology on their part likely never will happen. I remember early on going to our local elder ombudsman organization, which I can only describe as “worthless” in the nicest of terms, and being told, “We don’t do that” when I asked for a family counseling referral.
When our parents are finally dead and buried, it doesn’t matter. We know we did the right thing. But it doesn’t mean we don’t want all of America, including those running for president, to know what sorts of suffering we endured and why it has to change.
“When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I was 31, working as a career office temporary,” Judy Morton tells Caregiver Relief. “At first, I visited him whenever I could, after work and on weekends. One day a nurse told me that my dad said he always felt better when I was there, because he knew that I would take care of anything that came up.”
Shortly thereafter, Judy took a leave of absence from the agency and spent the next months taking care of her dad, both in the hospital and at home. “It created a financial hardship for my husband and me, but neither of us regretted that for a minute. I was able to give my dad comfort and security, and I was able to give my mom the gift of just being with him without having to do the hands-on care.”
Soon Judy became the “default” family caregiver whenever anyone needed help. And so it goes. “Since for most of that time I was still working as a temp (I also spent 10 years behind a chair as a hairdresser), it was easier for me to take off when needed,” Judy explained. “And I don’t have children, so my sisters felt it was ‘only natural’ that I should do what needed doing, since I didn’t have a ‘family’ to care for. My husband did not appreciate this attitude from them at all.”
And the next thing you know, Judy was caring for her uncle too, her mother’s youngest brother. Because of her he got to spend a final two weeks in his home before dying in a hospital.
And mom? Well by this time she was becoming more and more frail and developing memory issues. “After consultation with her lawyer, mother granted me Power of Attorney.”
Sibling v. sibling: A binding caregiver contract can keep families out of court
In the end, mom had Parkinson’s. She suffered a massive stroke in the hospital, along with pneumonia. Eventually she died from a fall.
“As her Parkinson’s had worsened, and even before it was actually diagnosed, I was having to take more and more time off from work to take mother to medical appointments and deal with her finances,” Judy explains. “I lost a week of work when her in-home aide stole her credit cards, checks, and car.”
Canceling the cards, getting copies of everything, writing letters….It took me 13 months to get it all finally settled – and we could not get the police to arrest (the alleged perpetrator).”
Next came the estate, the fight after the battle. Judy tried to go back to work in 2009. She was offered a job as a file clerk for $9 per hour.
And now her husband has cancer.
I’ve been a journalist for three decades, and am quite the cynic. But folks, stories like Judy’s are anything but fiction. Our presidential candidates need to wise up to the fact that we have 11,000 Baby Boomers per day turning 65, and a nation ill equipped to care for them. What this means is that a generation of caregivers are going to be the next burden, broke from caring for their parents, unable to care for themselves, fraught with mental problems, substance abuse problems, and living among broken families.
Candidates for president, what is your plan to allow family caregivers to be able to pay their own bills while saving the federal government hundreds of thousands of dollars by leaving their loved ones out of $8,000-per-month nursing homes that nobody wants to go into the first place?
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