The Journey of Aging at Home
Never has something so big moved so fast.
The giant baby boomer generation, born after the end of the Second World War, has hurtled through time and into space, onto television and through a cultural revolution. They were propelled forward by computers, which now live in iPhones, and have become Facebook grandparents that can even Snapchat pictures of their grandchildren.
“Boom” has always been the operative word for this generation, but “whoosh” might be a close second.
For the next decade and a half, 10,000 people a day will turn 65 and boomers, becoming latter-stage seniors, will overflow every part of the gerontological community. What’s more, as they age, they are also taking care of their parents and family members.
Ninety percent of seniors want to stay in their own homes and eighty percent think they will be able to do just that. But seventy percent of them will need assistance for at least three years . Responding to the call for care, 40 million Americans every day help a parent, spouse or relative with the activities of daily living: things like bathing, dressing, eating, grooming, and incontinence.
”Home care” is an industry that facilitates the in-home journey for those with late life issues. Providing help hourly, daily, overnight, on a live-in basis or 24/7, home care services are meant to be flexible to suit the needs of a family member and those providing support. For some, this might mean light housekeeping and running errands. Others may need help with incontinence issues, showering, dressing and cooking. It really becomes a dynamic process that evolves as needs change.
In the case of terminal illness, it actually is still possible to stay home. Hospice is a service that can be done in-home. Hospice providers can help your family member walk the last few steps of life, helping them with changing, bathing, cooking...whatever might ease the burden during those last days.
My journey into caregiving began as a hospice volunteer. In training we were told that, occasionally, volunteers found themselves attending to one of their own family members. I remember thinking how unlikely that was since my extended family lives in Michigan. Then my wife got cancer. It seemed impossible to believe at first because Anne just never got sick with anything.There was simply no history of cancer in her family. But after a brave and courageous fight, and in spite of the best efforts of great medical help, Annie went into hospice in early 2013 and into heaven that May. Of course it was a deeply sad journey, but there was also incredible beauty. She stayed in our home. Our daughter, my oldest son, and her mother helped me take care of Anne. But we were not alone. Every day, a steady stream of friends and clergy came to see her. Until the very end, not a day went by without visits. Many visits! Some days a dozen or so people would come by. Anne was a woman of great faith and her community came into her house and loved her. We even had six or seven masses said at the house!
As I’ve continued to work with a variety of families with care needs, I also recognize there are times when aging in place is simply not feasible. It’s okay when you are overwhelmed and need the help of a facility. Hospice care, skilled nursing facilities, and independent or assisted living facilities, especially those that specialize in alzheimer’s or dementia issues, are all possible options to help.
Aging is hard. The Beatles, when still in their 20’s, bemoaned the woes of a “Hard Day’s Night.” A half century later, we’re all in tune with that sentiment in a way we could have never foreseen and it would be nice to think “All You Need is Love.” It will, however, take more than love as we grow older . . . it will require “Help.”
Mike Roberts spent more than 25 years in St. Louis as a television meteorologist, nineteen of which were at the NBC affiliate, KSDK. When KSDK offered Mike early retirement in April of 2016, he followed his personal connection to in-home care and, by last fall, began a new career. Mike is now a Director of Client Services at Home Care Assistance of St. Louis.