Haims: A call for faster action on elder isolation and caregiver support (column)
September 10, 2018
No matter how digitally connected our world is today, too many older adults are socially disconnected. Studies from AARP estimate elder isolation is believed to be prevalent in 1 of 5 Americans 65 and older.
As more families enter the sandwich generation category — caught between caring for older adults, children and sometimes grandchildren, as well — the problem is compounded.
Distance is not always the problem. For adult daughter Linda, who lived two doors down from her parents and cared for both through Parkinson's, dementia and strokes, it was the overwhelming responsibility of being on call 24/7. Her mother was not able to drive, so Linda took her to doctor's appointments, managed her medications, did her grocery shopping and laundry and even helped with meal prep after her first stroke limited her ability to get up and down the stairs (her kitchen was upstairs, her bedroom downstairs).
Linda's mother also needed help getting dressed in the morning and getting into bed at night, and after a traumatic health emergency with her mother, Linda lived with the constant fear of kissing her goodnight for the last time or finding her mother unresponsive or distressed when she'd come to help her in the morning.
Though she was fairly independent during the day and lived in a multigenerational household, Linda's mother was frequently alone in between the times her daughter came to help, as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren were often tied up with school, work and other personal obligations.
Linda was overwhelmed, and as her siblings were not able to contribute support on a regular basis, she often felt stuck between a rock and a hard place.
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The reality is, many family members are willing to help — and do so faithfully — but the needs of isolated seniors, such as Linda's mother, are not easily or adequately met by just one person, whether that person lives more than an hour away or two doors down.
Part of the challenge is that meeting the social and emotional needs of an older loved one can be incredibly difficult in the midst of balancing other family and social commitments, especially when health care-related support such as medication management or getting to a doctor's appointment must take precedence.
Grief and depression further intensify the daily need for companionship among these isolated seniors: Many have lost spouses, friends, siblings and other close relatives. Many are also feeling like a burden and are unable to manage life or enjoy hobbies as they did before.
Unfortunately, many family members caring for a loved one wait too long to implement that daily presence through home care, or they're stymied by the refusal of their senior to let so-called strangers into the home.
Still, there's help for the sandwich generation. Home care, even for just a few hours a week, can make a life-saving, life-changing, independence-prolonging difference for older adults. It also reduces the burdens of time, energy and the emotional toll on primary caregivers, allowing them to provide support for a much longer duration.
Companionship is powerful. But the diminishing loss of ability and independence is not easily overcome.
And seniors can be stubborn at accepting help or support, no matter how much we need it. It's a conversation and decision families should ease into, which means starting the process sooner.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.