A tough job that requires tough choices

“They’re people who know what the right thing to do is and they do it,” according to Experience Inc. Executive Director Farley Wright.

“They”, in this case, are caregivers and, thanks to a rapidly aging population, their numbers are legion.

The question of how to ensure care of aging individuals is rarely easy, but, whether based on a desire to avoid a nursing facility or on simple economics, is often for a loved one to take on the role of caregiver.

The job’s not easy though.

It can be stressful, thankless and exhausting and it often comes in addition to a regular job. The important thing is to remember you’re not alone.

When talking about caregiving; Wright, who is a caregiver for his father in-law, Gary Lester, who cares for his father and Beverly Mowrey, who cares for her mother; made a point of stressing the need to have the support of others dealing with the same issues.

“My mother’s functionality is impaired and she can’t do too much,” Mowrey said. “It’s hard to watch. Not only do you find yourself tired physically from everything you need to do, but mentally and emotionally too.”

“You find some resentment creeps in and some guilty,” according to Lester. “You have to have some way to vent that. You have to maintain your own mental health. You can get to feel like you’re alone, but it’s important to be able to talk through these feelings with a group. You really have to turn to people going through it as well. you can’t go it alone.”

Wright, Lester and Mowrey simple things like ensuring healthy eating and proper administration of medications, or finding time to run errands can be difficult as a caregiver.

“It’s hard to find time to take care of things,” Mowrey said. Some things can be very complicated and it’s hard to find time away from caregiving to do those things… and the medications. It never ceases to amaze me how much they give to elderly people and they can’t keep track of all of that.”

“There’s the technological aspect,” Lester pointed out. “You need those skill to navigate the system and a lot of older people don’t have them. I also worry about nutrition.”

“As you get older, you get used to eating certain, simple things,” Wright noted.

The hurdles presented by the aging process itself can complicate even the basics of life.

“The elderly, they often can process things, but the mental process slows down,” Lester noted. “That’s fine with most stuff, but when it comes to safety it’s a problem.”

“The other thing I notice is, with the elderly, life gets difficult,” Wright pointed out. “It gets difficult to get up. It gets difficult to get dressed. Everything just gets harder for them.”

“It’s one of the most rewarding things you can do, but it’s frustrating,” Mowrey said. “You’re trying to fit both roles as a family member and a caregiver. The burnout is horrendous because there is no end point. When you’re raising kids, they grow up, and it’s hard to see your parents go backwards like that.”

It isn’t easy for the aging loved one either. Adult depression is very real and beginning to gain recognition.

“Adult depression is finally listed in the (mental health) diagnostic manual,” Mowrey said.

“There’s a fairly small window of time where you can convince them to do thing like go to a senior center or volunteer and is you miss that, they just kind of hunker back,” Wright said. “If you can’t find something, they get hooked into T.V.”

Support, combined with knowledge, is the key to dealing with the situation, according to Wright.

“If you take a lay person who doesn’t know how to deal with it and doesn’t know the resources, you’re just creating an environment that’s ripe for elder abuse” he said. “That’s why the support group is so important. You need to have an informal, comfortable group who have been there.”

“We’re all in this together,” Lester added.

For informational or support resources, caregivers can call Experience Inc. at (814) 723-3763 or toll-free at 1-800-281-6545 or e-mail info@experienceinc.org. Referral services are free. Further resources are available on the Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s website at www.aging.state.pa.us.

November is National Family Caregivers Month. Gov. Tom Corbett has declared it Caregivers Support Month in Pennsylvania.