Tips for the caregivers of those aging independently in place (at home)
Advice that enables seniors to live confidently on their own and achieve their full human potential — a story by Jennifer McDermott, Director of Adult and Aging Service, Catholic Family Center
We at Catholic Family Center can think of no better way to illustrate the beauty of caring for an aging adult in a way that enables independence and dignity than by sharing the story of 101-year-old Josephine Sackley, whose family has received help from CFC in various ways from her infancy to now.
[editorial note: June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, please see footnote* for more information and a link]
Josephine Sackley (born Gennuso) was born in Castilana, Sicily in April of 1921. Throughout the first World War, a wave of immigration had hit Italy, as it did so many countries in Europe as people sought to escape the fighting. Due to this, many families, including Josephine’s, were living in a state of extreme poverty. The Gennusos sought a new and better life, and as Josephine’s father had a cousin in New York City, their hopeful eye fell on the United States.
Josephine’s father came to the U.S. alone, when she was just ten months old, as he had to become a citizen before he would be able to send for the rest of his family. It was not long before he was able to establish himself in Rochester, N.Y. due to the assistance of Catholic Family Center (Catholic Charities), having been the only charitable agency with such services prepared to help with his transition at that time.
Meanwhile, back in Sicily, Josephine and her family struggled even more without her father present. They remained destitute. Josephine, her older sister, and her mother finally joined her father in America in 1927 through CFC’s services. Though they had arrived in the U.S. in the middle of the Great Depression, Josephine managed to secure a job at Hickey Freeman tailoring pockets onto suits and remained at this job for twenty-seven years.
While visiting Levatis Meat Market one day, Josephine caught her first sight of her future husband, Tom Sackley, who was a butcher dressed like a gentleman as he cut the meat, in a full, fine suit. The two of them became serious and married when Josephine was twenty-seven years old. They had three sons, named Michael, Joe, and Ricky. Tom passed away in 1990, but Josephine remains close with her sons.
For being 101 years old, Josephine is hugely independent. It was only after having a stroke in 2016 that she really needed more supervision and assistance, and CFC, already having worked with her family over 100 years ago, offered it. Today, CFC visits Josephine two to three times each week, helping both with house maintenance and personal keep.
Aids such as Shaneesa clean her house, occasionally cook her meals, act as the hands through which she continues doing the yardwork she has always enjoyed, and assists her with bathing and washing her hair since she can no longer lift her hands above her head after her stroke. Her son Michael lives nearby and is a great help to Josephine, as he is able to assist her with getting to and from appointments, getting groceries, and going out on day trips.
The need for elder care can start off very gradual and the need for more assistance and supervision can increase as they age overtime. Or, there could be a crisis, such as a sudden and drastic decline in health, where there is no warning or time to come up with a strategy on how to take care of your aging adult at home. As in Josephine’s case, her independence changed drastically and it became time for her family to seek the help of an outside resources to help maintain a quality of life while remaining in her home.
Regardless of your circumstances, finding caregiver support can be a challenging process and most likely a role you haven’t been trained to facilitate. With the right help and support, you can be an effective in keeping a senior independent with a program like CFC’s Support to Aging Residents (STAR) that utilizes paid specialist and trained volunteers.
If you are new to family caregiving, here are a few things to consider.
It’s difficult to watch the deterioration of physical or mental abilities in an aging parent, however, helping one too much creates its own set of problems such as curbing independence and crushing the spirit.
Even before your parent clearly needs help, talk with him/her about how capabilities change as they age. If your parent is reluctant to talk about their loss of independence, it is completely normal. Focus on what your loved one can still do. For example, if you mother can no longer go to the grocery store, encourage her to create a dinner menu and grocery list. Finally, reassure your parent that the goal is to enable him/her to continue to do the things he/she still wants to do within the home setting. Be open to technologies and strategies that allow your family members to be as independent as possible while maintaining a better quality of life for themselves.
Be a medical advocate
Learn as much as you can about your family member’s illness or disability and limitations before asking for help. The more you know, the better you can advocate for an aging-adult’s needs and desires. Set clear expectations and communicate them to family members, and other people involved in the care. For example, list all the caregiving tasks required, being as specific as possible, then identify which activities you’ll need to look to outside resources for help with.
Seek out community resources and support
There are services to help caregivers in most communities and usually include social adult day care, home health aides, home delivered meals, home repairs, transportation services, and skilled nursing. Places you can turn for caregiver support include (but are not limited to) are your place of worship, organizations specific to your family member’s illness or disability, eldercare advocacy providers and caregiver support groups.
When approaching other family members and friends for help, it is best to simply make your specific needs known. Reviewing the list of caregiving needs you previously drew up and ask the person how they’d like to help, in what way.
Concerns over how to keep an aging and vulnerable adult in their home are so common. As older adults are living longer, the number of older adults experiencing physical or cognitive decline continues to rise, and even behavioral changes and issues associated with aging can arise. As a result, more family members — primarily adult children — are taking on the role of family caregiver as their loved ones require more assistance with activities of daily living.
CFC provides services to aging adults in Monroe County, NY, and collaborates with local community partners to help older adults maintain independence through personal care and housekeeping aide service, transportation to medical appointments, grocery shopping, and other essential errands and case management and subsidized home care and other services to help people stay at home and avoid needing to use Medicaid by premature moves to a higher level of care.
*editorial footnote: The United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 66/127, designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It represents the one day in the year when the whole world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted to some of our older generations.