My maternal grandmother is no longer with us, but I think of her often.
She was a hard-working, German-Russian farm wife who steadfastly raised a family of nine through the hardships of the drought-wracked Dirty ‘30s and Depression.
But that’s before I knew her. I only remembered Grandma as she was after a major stroke left her speech garbled and made her more dependent on my Grandpa George.
When Grandpa died, Mom and her siblings decided it would be best to move Grandma out of their house and into a smaller, more manageable apartment in senior housing. Even so, with Grandpa gone, much of the caretaking pressure landed on Mom. As the lone sibling to still live in Grandma’s community, she put a great deal of time, love and energy into helping Grandma, while her brothers and sisters – living all over the country – chimed in with their long-distance opinions on how she SHOULD be doing things.
I feel bad that Mom didn’t have more support. I feel sad that Grandma would sometimes get so depressed and frustrated about her failure to communicate that she would look out the window and cry. But mostly, I feel terrible that we kids weren’t more empathetic and understanding of the situation.
In our self-centered minds, we didn’t want any encroachment on “our” turf. All we knew was that we had to watch “Lawrence Welk” whenever she was visiting, bunk together so she could have her own room and not make too much noise when she was resting.
In retrospect, Mom truly was a member of the “sandwich generation” – caught in that hard place between caring for aging parents and her own husband and family – before anyone knew what that label meant. (FYI: Social worker Dorothy Miller is credited with coining the term in 1981.)
If only Mom and Grandma had access back then to the numerous support services that exist today for older adults. In fact, after I started my position at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, I was surprised to learn about the many free or affordable options for those who are aging and might need extra help.
What a difference some of these programs could have made for our family, as the goal of
LSS’s Senior Independence service area is to give older adults a chance to live independently in their homes for longer, while still getting support from either trained volunteers or social workers certified in Aging Life Care.
Those services would not have replaced Mom, but they could have served as valuable reinforcements so she wouldn’t have been so alone in her caretaking challenges. As she lived 18 miles out of town, she would have felt a lot less anxiety knowing someone was checking in to make sure Grandma was taking her medications correctly and getting enough social interaction. With such support around her, Grandma surely would have felt healthier, happier and more connected.
If you yourself want to help someone who is a caregiver or someone who could use extra care, here's a quick recap of our services. You can get more in-depth info at https://www.lssnd.org/senior-independence or by simply emailing the contacts below:
CARE COORDINATION (Contact: Carmel, 701-271-3232, email@example.com)
· Aging Life Care: This service pairs 65-and-older adults with chronic medical or mental health needs with trained, certified Aging Life Care™ specialists who routinely check in with the client and help them with anything from care coordination to patient advocacy, paperwork completion and enhancement of social supports.
· Aging Life Care Connect: Does your loved one live in a remote area? This service uses SMART technology to link older adults in rural settings to trained, certified caregivers who can provide virtual advice and support to help clients live more safely and independently.
· Aging Life Care Independence: Provides case management and support to elder refugees and lower-income adults (65+) with chronic medical or mental health needs.
· Home and Community Based Services (QSP): LSS provides several services under the HCBS umbrella, including case-management services, community transition services for people moving from a care facility back into the community, and HCBS Respite, which provides a temporary break for primary, live-in caregivers. The case-management and transition services are open to seniors who are Medicaid-eligible. The respite program is available in Stutsman County only.
VOLUNTEER SUPPORT. (Contact: Becky Telin, 701-838-7800, firstname.lastname@example.org)
· Senior Companions: Pairs 55+ companions with age 60+ seniors or adults who are lonely, homebound or disabled while providing clients with one-on-one companionship, social recreation and help with light tasks in their homes. Older volunteers who meet certain eligibility guidelines receive a tax-free hourly stipend and travel reimbursement.
· Volunteer Companions: Pairs older adults with volunteers age 18 or older to provide companionship, social recreation and help with light household tasks. Companion receives travel reimbursement.
VOLUNTEER/COMMUNITY SERVICE OPPORTUNITIES:
· Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP): Links age 55+ volunteers with short- or long-term projects that promote senior independence, food security, health and wellness and more. Volunteers serve non-profit, government agencies and community groups. Contact: Nancy Olson, 701-271-1318; email@example.com