Tag Archives: relationships with elders

Don’t Try This Alone — Thanks from a Caregiver

During recent weeks, we’ve done a lot to help my mom enjoy the holidays. Caring for her at home has allowed us to create many special moments like Mom’s visit with her sisters, a trip to New York, and a surprise birthday party. But we would never be able to keep her here and do all these things without a fleet of helpers who assist with so many aspects of her care. For this year of care and these happy holidays, we thank:

1. Special transit bus drivers! — These people keep a tough schedule and help many people overcome mobility barriers. We are so lucky that our drivers include people like Snuffy, who is older than some of his passengers, but hums with the joy of a kid.  Mom seems to glow in his presence. And Cathy? — she is like an old family friend.

2. Bus dispatchers — I can’t count the number of times my mom has gotten scared or disoriented on the bus and demanded to be taken home. The dispatchers guide the bus drivers through tense moments and re-arranged her schedule so mom can travel with friends who keep her calm.

3. Adult Day Care assistants — The people at my mom’s center in Palmerton are patient, cheerful, and skilled at helping elders with a wide range of problems. My mom feels safe and cared for, and she’s had the chance to build deep friendships which have totally changed her life.

4. Neighbors — Ever had to make this call: “Help! I’m stuck in traffic! Can you be there when mom’s bus gets in?” Or how about this one, “I’m at the end of my rope. Do you have wine or should I bring my own?”, or my personal favorite, “We need a laugh. Can you bring your best jokes over to our porch?”

5. Friends — They distract us with tales of their growing kids. They are not afraid of tears. Sometimes they cry too … and even share their tissues. They always know which TV shows and bank cashiers to avoid.

6. “Consequential Strangers” — the lady in the post office, the lady in the bakery — people you barely know who always find a way to make you feel good. They give you the prettiest stamps, or a free doughnut for mom.

7. Other caregivers — We are never really alone. People share stories about caring for their spouses, their parents. The deep spiritual aspects of this journey are real — and not just to me. It’s a sacred duty shared by many who understand it better than I do.

8. Incredible medical professionals — The nurses, doctors,  technicians, social workers and aides who bring knowledge and patience to the care process. Their expertise helps a novice like me face a job for which I never studied.

9. Family members — Siblings who share the work, the tears, and good ideas that improve care process. I know there are families out there where people don’t get along and the burdens aren’t shared. But it’s never too late to mend your fences and start working together.

10. Our higher power — We might call it by different names — so I’ll let you  insert your own. Those moments of spiritual peace keep our fortress of care from crumbling.

The list may stop here, but the gratitude does not.  This job is too hard and too important to be done by one person. My family is thankful for all those made our year of family care possible.

Making Dreams Come True for Dementia Patients

For many families, placing a loved one in a nursing facility is a dreaded choice made only when every last option (and caregiver) is exhausted.  But a move may be necessary once a person’s medical needs exceed our expertise and stamina. Care in a nursing home can still be very personal if family members visit often and get involved. Here’s a story of how one loving caregiver enriched the lives of dementia patients at her mom’s skilled nursing residence by starting a “dream fulfillment” program.

Ms. Z. began her work by persuading the facility to add more cultural activities that resonated with the lives of the residents. That meant putting rice and beans and soul food on the dining menu for the home’s many Latino and African American patients. She helped find volunteers to paint bright, live-affirming murals in the drab hallways. Then, after completing these smaller scale projects, Ms. Z helped launch a campaign to raise funds for a Second Wind Dream program. This program is operated by a national organization headquartered in Atlanta, GA. Second Wind Dreams works with communities to discover and fulfill the dreams of elders living in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospice centers. A primary goal of the Second Wind program is to change the perception of aging.

According to the organization, “A Second Wind Dream® is when a group of visionary believers enable an elder to awaken their dreams, often hidden or forgotten.” When such a dream is fulfilled, it “renews hope and champions further dreaming.”  The program works with member communities to discover and fulfill the dreams of elders at the member site. In the facility where Ms. Z.’s  mom lives, they were able to get a local philanthropist to donate the fee required for membership in the national network. To fulfill one resident’s dream, the group had Mario Andretti visit the site for an afternoon. To link the resident’s dream to other community activities, they also had a mural of Mario Andretti, Larry Holmes, and Chuck Bednarik — local heroes for the home’s Lehigh Valley residents — painted in the hallway. Staff and volunteers developed a process to get elders to tell them their dreams which are now fulfilled once or twice per month. In addition, the facility now has a “dream celebration” every three months.

The volunteer group has organized fundraising events to pay for some of the dreams which have included flying family members in for visits or taking a resident to Niagara Falls. But the nursing home has a multi-ethnic population and some dreams have been as simple as having a favorite childhood food — like collard greens or sweetbreads — served on a special day. One resident had an eyelid that never went down and was able to get a new prosthesis to help her lower the eyelid. You can read more about  fulfilled dreams at www.cedarbrookdreamcatchers.org , the URL for the Pennsylvania site. Second Wind Dreams is celebrating a national anniversary on January 13th ,2011 and hopes to fulfill the dreams of many people across the country that day.

For Ms. Z.’s mom, the dream was seeing her whole family together. This involved transporting 25 people from around the U.S. to celebrate her “half birthday” in July, when snow could not ruin their travel plans. What a joyful day that must have been! Fulfillment of a dream like this make our waking lives more vivid and rich. Consider helping an elder realize a long-held dream at this emotion-filled time of year. Next week I’m taking my mom to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. It may be our last chance to make this trip, and I want her to be as happy as possible. Plus, she’s not the only dreamer in the house.