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Caring for aging parents amid pandemic challenges

A personal journey through the trials and tribulations of making a plan
Published: Nov. 3, 2020 at 11:40 AM EST
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MIDLAND, Mich. (WJRT) (11/02/2020) - A heartbreaking reality for millions of Americans: dementia.

Roughly two-thirds of the elderly in this country live with multiple chronic illnesses. Taking into consideration the approximately ten thousand baby boomers turning 65 every minute in the US alone, it promises to challenge an already strained eldercare industry.

The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t done it any favors. That hits close to home for our Charlie Tinker and his mother, who shared their experience with ABC12:

”I would rather not have to deal with it, but obviously, that’s not up to me. It’s very difficult.”

2017 changed everything for my family.

”There would be one diagnosis and then they’d come back with another thing,“ my mother, Nicole recalled.

Three frantic trips to two different hospitals revealed a devastating diagnosis, when, that fall, her doctors finally used the ‘d word’: dementia.

”At one point in the hospital, you thought I was your superior in the Navy,” I prompted. ”That, to me, was…“

”Devastating?” my mother responded.

”Yeah.”

“It was really difficult to find out about the diagnosis and to realize this is what my life is going to be,” she related.

My mom, who fearlessly raised me, taught me right from wrong, and tirelessly answered all of my questions suddenly had none of the answers.

She moved in the following January, as the condition’s rapid onset meant that I found myself unceremoniously thrust into a new role.

”I think memory care is also pretty key,” I explained during a weekend conference call with my uncles.

Because the disease is still manageable and in its early stages, our goal had always been to keep mom at home as long as we could, until a call to the Region 7 Area Agency on Aging gave me my first exposure to care in the age of COVID.

Our relocation to Midland in April coincided with those first few heady weeks of quarantine. It was then I first learned securing the level of support upon which we’d come to rely in Cadillac might prove challenging.

Beginning at that point and continuously thereafter over the ensuing weeks and months, I’d been told there simply weren’t any home healthcare providers with the ability to take on new clients.

“All of this has required a lot of flexibility and creativity and collaboration with other agencies.”

Julie Randolph described the changing landscape of eldercare during an interview late last month.

As the care coordinator for Senior Services of Midland County, she connects seniors with programming and opportunities geared to keep them in their homes.

“What have you heard from clients who may be going through something similar?” I asked.

”Social isolation is a major problem right now,“ Randolph responded. “We need to get creative.”

The agency halted home visits for new clients as the pandemic raged and had to temporarily shutter its adult daycare center.

“That ten percent capacity inside a building, that makes it pretty challenging,” Amy Sheridan, the family support and activities manager at Seasons Adult Day Health Services. “We’re a big family, so they’re used to hugs and getting close… all of that’s a big change for them.“

”It’s also shined a spotlight on the long time existing shortage of Michigan direct care workers,” Randolph explained.

Beyond the obvious challenges, COVID-19 also complicated a long-standing industry-wide labor shortage.

According to an estimate from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 3.4-million home healthcare workers circa 2019. By 2029, the industry is projected to expand a whopping 34-percent.

“They are the nuts and bolts,” Randolph described the role of a direct care worker. ”Older individuals are really at the mercy of someone caring.”

There are resources out there, including, as I found, access to home healthcare. The central question then becomes how you plan to pay for it.

My mom’s on a fixed income and qualified for what’s called Medicaid waiver—which shoulders a share of the financial burden—the problem: not everyone accepts it.

“In the beginning phases, it made it a lot tougher… we had to go above and beyond.”

Laura Hintz is the administrator of Bayside Homecare. As she explained via Zoom, the hurdles are fewer in the world of private pay.

“We had a lot more business. I mean, on a weekly basis, I was doing eight to ten assessments,” she related. “People didn’t want to be in assisted livings.“

“I mean, we’ve all agreed that this needs to be done,” my Uncle Tim explained in The midst of our conference call. “Now, we’re getting into the meat of how to do it and with whom.”

Family conversations have increasingly turned to finding an assisted living facility nearby, but knowing these once safe spaces may not be as safe as they once were, the gravity of that choice weighs on me daily.

”As it gets closer, we’ll have to figure out more of the specific stuff,” my Uncle Jon chimed in. “You know, the transition for her and what that’s going to look like.”

“I am really nervous about the changes that are foreseeable,“ my mother explained, now back in the living room of our home in Midland. “You can’t necessarily improve the condition itself, but you can try to improve your response to it.“

It’s not a decision with which any of us ever thought we would be confronted. Though I can’t tell you what the future holds, I can rest assured it’s a reality we’ll face with every ounce of determined optimism and grit we can muster. It’s a decision we’ll make as a family. In the best interests of a woman who never stopped fighting for mine.

To reach out to Services of Midland County, click here.

For the Genesee County Commission on Aging, click here.

For the Bay County Department on Aging, click here.

For the Saginaw County Council on Aging, click here.

For the Region 7 Area Agency on Aging, click here.

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