By Gwen Dean, Ability360, V.P. Home Care Services
The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP report that there are 44 million American family caregivers who provide personal care and supports for a parent, grandparent, partner or child with a disability. This is not only a savings of $11 billion annually in unpaid services but it also strengthens the fabric of our families and our society. Family care giving does not come without cost to the caregiver.
Providing care for a loved one has many psychological and physical consequences for the family caregiver.
There are feelings of joy, love, the satisfaction of giving back, but at the same time, there are feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, physical injury and economic loss. But the family caregiver remains committed to keeping a family member at home rather than placing him or her in a nursing home.
My last visit with a 99-year-old mother and her care giving daughter in her 60’s was particularly moving for me. The daughter had provided care for her mother for over 20 years. They lived together, alone, in a modest home.
In the earlier years, her mother lived in her own home and the daughter would go over every day to assist her with bathing, dressing, shopping for groceries, meal planning and accompanying her to medical appointments. In later years, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and it became more difficult and unsafe for her mother to live alone, so she moved her into her home.
Having visited them years before, I was excited to see them again, as I remembered their gentleness and kindness. When I entered their home, the mother was sitting in a living room chair looking very pretty. Her hair was fixed; her skin was beautiful and she wore a nice dress. I knew her daughter had taken very good care of her. As I approached her mother, she looked straight forward with no expression on her face. Her daughter then told me that she hadn’t spoken for a very long time. I sat on the ottoman in front of her mother’s chair, took her hand telling her how pretty she looked and asked her how she was doing. Her daughter shared with me how much she had enjoyed having her mother living with her all those years, but it had been very sad and difficult watching the progression of her mother’s Alzheimer’s.
A picture on the wall caught my eye. It was of a man standing in front of a Santa Fe railroad station, which was located in the town where I was born and raised. I asked if the man in the picture was related to them. Before the daughter could answer, her mother said, “My husband worked for the Santa Fe Railroad.” Her daughter and I sat quietly, tears filling her daughter’s eyes as she said this is a miracle from God. Struggling to hold back my tears, I took the picture off the wall and placed it on her mother’s lap. As her mother stroked the picture, she continued to talk about her husband and family, calling each of her children by name. Her daughter thanked God for bringing me into their home, for she had accepted that her mother would never speak again. This was one of the most rewarding experiences that I have ever had, knowing that I may have brought happiness into someone’s life. Several months later, I received a celebration card commemorating her mother’s 100th birthday.
Family caregivers are commended for the difficult, but rewarding jobs they do. They are applauded for their strengthening of the family unit by modeling their commitment to family values.
Ability360, V.P. Home Care Services
Gwen Dean serves as Vice President of Home Care Services (HCS). Prior to joining Ability360, Dean worked in collaboration with Maricopa County Long Term Care in the development of their attendant care program. She subsequently developed the Ability360 Home Care Services program, including attendant training, referral and program policies and procedures. Currently, the program is providing attendant care services to over 4,000 consumers.
Dean’s experience also includes a position with Mental Health Resources in New Mexico, where she managed the transitional living center and day treatment program, designed to help residents with mental illness transition from state hospitals back into their communities.