In August of 2014, Mary’s mother Eartha was discharged from the hospital after a short stay — an event that would have lasting consequences. When Mary arrived at the hospital that day, Eartha was ready to go, dressed and sitting in a wheelchair with a list of medications on her lap. Never given instructions on her mother’s new prescriptions, Mary missed out on a key piece of information — one of the medications was only meant to be given for a very short time. This was discovered months later, but it was too late. Eartha’s kidneys had been damaged irreversibly by the medication and were only working at 10 percent. Mary was given the choice to start her mother on dialysis or begin hospice care.
In preparing Mom’s medication, my 90-year-old Pop would fill a syringe using the light of the kitchen window to see if the dosage was correct. He set up the nebulizer on a table with handwritten step-by-step instructions to remind him how to operate it. Today, millions of family caregivers like Pop perform complex medical tasks that at one time would have been administered only by medical professionals.
When their grandfather’s health declined, Christina and her brother, Michael, stepped in to care for their “Papa.” Together they did everything he needed to stay at home, where he wanted to be. Christina shared:
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.
My sister always says, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." I was reminded of this adage when I heard Loren Colman, Minnesota assistant commissioner of continuing care, explain how Minnesota is consistently ranked at the top of the nation when it comes to providing support for seniors and their family caregivers. " We planned," he said. Indeed, Minnesota developed a plan decades ago to transform the way the state would deliver long-term care services to older residents in their homes and communities, instead of costly nursing homes.
Roseanne Barr, who tonight debuts as a judge on NBC's Last Comic Standing, would rather be at home on her Hawaii macadamia nut farm, eating food from her garden and seeing her grandkids off to school.
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.
Mike is a 55-year-old Mississippian and a family caregiver for his lifelong friend Joe, who suffered a stroke. Mike has found more emotional strength than he knew he had when the reality hit that caring for Joe is a 24-hour-a-day job.
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