Several months ago, I met Doug and Michelle Mercer of McAlester, Okla. Doug had been home from Iraq for only four days when he suffered debilitating injuries in a serious motorcycle accident. Three and a half years later, he is still recovering brain function, he uses a wheelchair and he needs help 24/7.
Ah — autumn! The crisp cool weather, the colorful leaves ... and the smell of football is in the air. This time of year I’m reminded of the days of my youth when I spent countless hours watching my pop and brother practicing football in the backyard, watching high school games my brother starred in, and watching our beloved Buffalo Bills on TV.
As I cared for my parents, helping them to live independently at home as they aged, I learned to listen to the learnings of other family caregivers. Recently, I shared 5 Tips for Caregivers and asked others for their views on our @ AARPAdvocates Facebook page. The comments from fellow caregivers came flooding in. While I wish I could share them all, here are 10 tips from caregivers to caregivers:
While traveling to Erie, Pa., for a town meeting on family caregiving, I was reflecting on my family roots. A little more than 100 years ago, my Lithuanian grandparents immigrated to America and made Shenandoah, Pa., their first hometown. My grandfather worked in the coal mines and my grandmother, fluent in six languages, worked various jobs while raising five children - one of whom was my mom. My grandparents taught me about hard work and perseverance, and my parents taught me all I'd ever need to know about unconditional love and family caregiving.
National Nurses Week comes to a close today, and I am reminded of my mom's nurse, Sue. As my parents got older and Pop became Mom's caregiver, they needed more help. Sue came once a week for the months following Mom's return home from a rehabilitation center. She checked on Mom's health and trained Pop on how to care for Mom during the week. I am still so grateful for Nurse Sue and all that she did. She was one of the reasons Mom and Pop were able to stay safe at home, where they wanted to be, and out of a costly institution like a nursing home.
Gallup public opinion surveys consistently show that nursing is the most trustworthy profession in America. This recognition comes with a responsibility - to help people manage their health conditions with the confidence that they can do it.
BREAKING UPDATE 5/15: Oklahoma becomes the first state in the nation to enact the CARE Act! SB 1536, also known as the CARE Act, has been signed by Governor Mary Fallin and will take effect November 1, 2014. The bill will help the 600,000 family caregivers in Oklahoma when their loved ones go into the hospital and as they transition home.
As I recently told Ron Fournier of the National Journal , the memories of Mom and Pop are part of what drive me in my work to support family caregivers as they help their loved ones live independently at home. Like most Americans, Mom and Pop wanted to stay at home - and not go into a nursing home or other facility. In their 80s they become first-time homeowners of a one-story house, and I continued in my role as their unofficial caregiver. Without realizing it, I had joined a silent army of now over 42 million family caregivers across the states, safely keeping their loved ones from being readmitted to the hospital, out of costly institutions, and at home.
BREAKING UPDATE: The Hawaii legislature has created a task force to examine the critical role family caregivers serve when their loved ones go into the hospital and then transition home. As a named member of the task force, AARP Hawaii will help evaluate how to implement provisions of the CARE Act as well as the community resources needed for family caregivers to safely care for their loved ones at home. In early 2015, the task force will make a recommendation to best support the 270,000 family caregivers in Hawaii.
I was a family caregiver for my Mom and Pop for more than 15 years. After all they'd done for me, it was my pleasure to care for them. Through the years, we were in and out of a dozen hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Each time at discharge, I was handed a dizzying array of responsibilities to ensure my parents recovered from illness and regained their health and happiness. Medication changes, wound care, nebulizers and more became part of our post-discharge regimen. But the tasks were intimidating. I wasn't a trained medical professional. And the consequences of making a mistake in their care weighed heavily on me.
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