Finding Care and Support for Aging Grandparents
When her father’s quality of life began to suffer at a quicker pace as a result of a lifelong, painful battle with a degenerative disease and Monica Barnes became dissatisfied with the care he was receiving, she immediately began researching resources that she thought would help to ease or even reverse his discomfort. The emotional task of caretaking was more difficult because she lived in Durham and her parents lived in Wilson.
Barnes’ life soon became a flurry of weekend stays with her parents, weekday trips to the doctor with her father, research and telephone calls. Barnes called on friends and family for referrals, recommendations and support, and consulted with a medical doctor for a second opinion on her father’s health.
Angela Warren has been her mother’s caretaker since Warren was 9. That was when her mother suffered traumatic injuries to both of her legs; they were crushed after being pinned to a wall when a driver’s brakes failed. Warren’s mother now suffers from lymphedema and chronic cellulitis and has been diagnosed as morbidly obese. For nearly 30 years, Warren was her mother’s primary caretaker, cooking, cleaning and dressing her mother’s legs.
Warren now lives in Alabama, but she still travels home to check on her mother. Her mother’s sister, who is local, also checks in on her. And before Warren moved, she trained her 18-year-old nephew how to care daily for her mother. Her nephew now lives with Warren’s mother.
Warren’s story differs from Barnes’ in that she and her family have chosen to shoulder the majority of her mother’s care.
Accessing care through medical resources
Barnes, who was caring for her father long-distance, says a social worker was truly her best resource before, during and after her father’s stay in the hospital. “They truly know how to navigate. She was a wealth of information,” Barnes says. “I could call her anytime about anything.”
At the conclusion of every medical appointment, the social worker would relay additional information and make referrals to outside resources that could help provide services for her father. It was the social worker who helped Barnes find a long-term care facility for her father.
Warren contemplated moving her mother to Florida, when she researched medical assistance for the type of care her mother needed, but found help closer to home thanks to information from the hospital. She relies heavily on the wound clinic at UNC Health Care’s Wound Healing Center, which monitors her mother’s care and orders her dressing supplies.
Her mother’s general practitioner referred Warren to the Cancer Center for injections to elevate her blood level production, and the hospital referred her to home health agencies and certified nursing assistants for her mom’s long-term care.
While both Warren and Barnes found the hospital staff helpful while their loved ones were under hospital care, after discharge, however, it was up to them to find consistent and continuous care. In Warren’s case, she says she reached a limit on the help she can receive due to the extent of her mother’s condition.
A disconnect between hospital and home
Reaching a limit is a reality, says Lauren Wattrell, who has a master’s in social work and owns Raleigh Geriatric Care Management, a private elder care management firm in Raleigh. “Not every situation has a solution,” she says, but options exist. Bridging the gap between hospital and home can be challenging, Wattrell agrees.
Once loved ones are released from the hospital, the connection is broken between the family members and the discharge planner, social worker or nurse. “There’s a disconnect between hospital and home,” she says.
That disconnect becomes more complex when adult caretakers work or have children of their own and must bear the responsibility for their aging parents’ medical care, Wattrell says. “They’re called the ‘sandwich generation.’ They are the peanut butter and jelly,” she says of these caretakers. The peanut butter and jelly is spread thin when the caretakers live away from aging parents and perform their duties long distance.
Just knowing where to start seems to shorten the distance between knowing you need help and finding the right help.
Wattrell is one of only 3,000 geriatric care managers in the U.S. who help find resources such as long-term care facilities, home care providers, doctors, nurses, transportation services, and even legal assistance to help integrate the loved one back home. These specialized care managers offer consultation, as well as assessment and care plans that uncover issues like depression, screening, memory measurement, nutrition screening, finance review, and support for the caregivers, such as Adult Children of Aging Parents support groups.
“The Care Plan maps out resources,” says Wattrell, who is a member of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers and is helping to launch a nonprofit operation called Guiding Lights Caregiver Support Center in Raleigh. Slated to open in September, the agency will serve as a central referral source for family and professional caregivers. It will offer certified nursing training, a lending resource library and community outreach. Volunteers, like Wattrell, will help families with care management and even geriatric pharmacy assistance.
Caretakers can also find home- and community-based services through local agencies such as Raleigh’s Resources for Seniors (formerly the Council on Aging of Wake County). The agency has a Community Resource Database of information and referral specialists in Wake County; a directory of resources for older adults in Wake County; resource lists for home care, long-term care and housing; and an elder-care locator. For services in Durham, Orange and surrounding counties, the Triangle J Area Agency on Aging offers information and referrals.
Aging at home
Although 10 million seniors need daily help with routine tasks like bathing, eating and dressing, more than 90 percent of seniors surveyed say they want to continue living in their own homes rather than uproot for the sake of services, according to the National Council on Aging. The organization’s website further states that more than 13 million older adults could pay for help, but their money is tied up in their homes and, tragically, up to 5 million older adults are the victims of elder abuse annually.
Local councils on aging provide resources that promote dignified aging at home. For example, the Council on Aging of Johnston County provides a range of services, including caregiver support; a loaning closet; advocacy and counseling; medication management; legal assistance; access to senior centers with health and wellness programs; educational, recreational and social programs; a senior lunch program; and limited transportation services. The council also provides independent living apartments for persons older than 62 or who are disabled, as well as subsidized rent.
A geriatric adult mental health specialty team also offers training, education and consultation to support best practices in caring for people with dementia and mental health issues.
Getting support for the caretaker
“The physical health and emotional well-being, and maintaining social relationships and support, are critical for caregivers of aging loved ones,” says Jane Shirmer, executive director of the Council on Aging of Johnston County. “Caregivers need to be aware that there is support available for them.”
Shirmer reiterates the importance of community support groups that allow caregivers an opportunity to share ideas and resources and reduce the feeling of isolation.
“It is also helpful,” she says, “to look ahead. End-of-life choices can be planned in advance. When the time comes, the caregiver can move through the choices made and find peace with being prepared.”
Crystal Kimpson Roberts is a writer and communications professional who has been a mother for nearly 20 years. She lives in Smithfield.
The Center for Volunteer Caregiving
A private, nonprofit, faith-based organization that provides free volunteer support to Wake County seniors, family caregivers and adults with disabilities.
A public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging for finding local agencies to help older persons and their families access home and community-based services.
Meals on Wheels
Chapel Hill-Carrboro – www.chcmow.org
Durham – www.mowdurham.org
Wake County – www.wakemow.org/index.php
Provides nutritious meals to the homebound elderly and persons with disabilities.
National Council on Aging
A nonprofit service and advocacy organization that works to help older adults find jobs and benefits, improve their health, live independently and remain active.
N.C. Division of Health and Human Services
Division of Aging and Adult Services
State agency that promotes independence for older adults, persons with disabilities, and their families through community-based services and benefits.
Resources for Seniors
Provides home- and community-based services and information for older and disabled adults in Wake County (formerly the Council on Aging of Wake County).
Triangle J Area
Agency on Aging
Regional agency that provides
education, opportunities, services and support to older adults and
information about local agencies.