Advice for Baby Boomers in Charge of Elderly Care

Only three short years ago, Kerry Rutledge was living her dream career. At 60, she represented a private line of high-end clothing; occasionally jetted off to New York for meetings and enjoyed her quality time with customers, friends and family. Yet in 2012, it all came to an end when her father experienced a heart attack in East Texas. Suddenly, Rutledge was plunged into the world of caregiving and became the overseer of five family members, including two sets of aging parents and one special-needs sibling. At the time, three were located out of town.
 

BOOMER-GRAPHIC

Rutledge represents only one of the growing number of baby boomers faced with caregiving decisions that are increasingly made more difficult by the growth of health care costs and the addition of challenges presented by a debilitating disease called Alzheimer’s.
 
Rutledge was fortunately able to quit work and put her problem-solving talents to use on the needs of all the family members. “It is a full-time job,” she says. “I am lucky to have worked early in life in the medical field, so the paperwork does not overwhelm me. But it is intense, and I live with the inner conflict of wondering with each decision if I am doing the right thing.”
 
This often includes deciding which doctors are the best, which treatments are applicable and the largest dilemma … when to relocate to communities or facilities that will help and provide peace of mind.
 
“I have discovered there is always someone to help and guide us through decisions,” she says. “The hospitals often have great staffs just for this purpose, and they can answer each and every question.”
 
It was necessary to approach a family friend for assistance with her own parents located five hours away. “I must have that assistance from someone nearby,” she says, “because I often cannot get there fast enough.” This was the case recently when her dad suffered a mild stroke and her mother fell just a few days later.
 
Rena McDaniel, 45, cares for her mother with Alzheimer’s in her own home and is author of The Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver, www.thediaryofanalzheimerscaregiver.com. She confirms with Rutledge it is critical for caregivers to take time off for themselves and not become isolated from friends. She says, “Of course, my best advice is to appreciate the good, laugh at the crazy, and deal with the rest!”
 
Susan Franklin, of Franklin Park Communities, says, “The decision to leave one’s home can be difficult, both for the resident and the family. If possible, it is important for families to make the decision to move to a senior living community together. The conversations vary by family and personality, but we advise families to consider several factors when evaluating a move. Some of these factors include the ease or difficulty of everyday activities, the degree to which the senior feels isolated or lonely, transportation issues and the possibility that the need for more support from the family is increasing. It would be a lot easier for families if the decision point was crystal clear, but we all know that most of life’s big choices are characterized with more gray than black and white.”
 
Franklin has experienced these decisions firsthand as a boomer with a mother in her 90s who needed to be located from Florida to the family nearby. “At 92, my mother is still an independent woman. She is my dearest friend and mentor, and it is a delight to have her close to us in San Antonio at Franklin Park Sonterra. Before she made the move to Sonterra, we faced many of the same care issues with which so many families struggle. I think our experience not only as founders of Franklin Park, but also as consumers, gives us tremendous insight into the concerns and experiences of the families we serve. We understand the conversations, worries and practical considerations that go into caring for a loved one in a senior living community,“ says Franklin.
 
Luke Classen, president of Franklin Companies, says residents typically have a much better quality of life in a community setting than living alone. “Their diet is better; they become more socially active; they are more physically fit in a wellness program; and they have opportunities to stimulate their minds through mind games or by attending the arts and cultural events,” he explains. Franklin’s mother, Helen Cullen, said, “It makes me happy how Franklin Park takes care of me. I enjoy my friends and especially love the entertainment and sing-along; they know all our old songs.”
 
Franklin agrees each situation and person is different, but there are plenty of places and ways to get help. She encourages boomers to reach out and receive help for their own state of mind. “There really are help and options for every person, need and income level,” she said.
After 28 years working with caregivers and residents, Alma Cosme, community relations director at The Village at Incarnate Word, concurs there are many challenges. “The biggest areas of concern for baby boomers are the physical and emotional demands,” she said. Emotional demands place caregivers at risk for depression, stress, exhaustion and fatigue. Often this is brought on by the disruption to their own lifestyles and the decision-making pressure. “They can become isolated from family and friends and make great sacrifices,”she said.
 
Cosme said, “Our approach at The Village at Incarnate Word is to help educate baby boomers and their parents so that they can make an informed decision regarding senior living options. Years ago, parents of our current seniors experienced going to the ‘old age home’ or the ‘institution,’ thus instilling a fear of making a move to a senior living community. Today, our co-ministers offer gentle guidance in helping all to understand the many benefits of what is now available. There is often a sigh of relief once all involved learn to appreciate the options offered and the fact that residents can enjoy an active, independent lifestyle with the peace of mind of knowing services are available should the need arise.” The Village at the Incarnate Word has served the San Antonio community since 1988 and is home to over 300 residents.
 
The hardest part for Kerry Rutledge is watching her mother, her best friend, slip away. The lowest point has been receiving the brunt of her father’s anger after his stroke. The best part so far was her father-in-law’s recent memorial service following his death from Alzheimer’s. “The service was so honoring, and we took time to remember the man we knew and loved,” she says. “It was a true legacy for my son.” Though Rutledge is going above and beyond with her choice to be the caregiver for her family, she will continue working diligently for those left behind, so there are no regrets and she can live with herself after each one says goodbye.

By PAMELA LUTRELL