Has Eldercare Found a Champion in Congress? Meet Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

  • Read Expert Caregiver Carol Bradley Bursack's response to a recent interview in the Star-Tribune with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., discussing eldercare.

    Radio interviews often start with my being asked, “Why now? Why is this whole eldercare issue such a focus? In the old days, people just took care of their elders and didn’t talk about it much. They brought them into their homes. Is this generation just plain selfish?

    Um, no. We’re not selfish. People are just as loving and caring as they ever were. What’s happened, in my view, is:

    Number One:

    People are now living longer – but often in poor health. While we love to read about the 93-year-old who is scuba diving, and that cute couple in their eighties bike riding, that isn’t the norm.
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    Because of better medical care, people now survive strokes. Often, however, they are living with disabilities, and sometimes, dementia.
    Because of better medical care, people now survive longer with diabetes. Often, however, they have problems with their sight, kidneys, even amputations.

    Because of better medical care, people often have much better all around physical health, only to find out that their brain is dying from Alzheimer’s disease.

    Number Two:

    Families are scattered over a wider area. It’s now unusual for several grown siblings to live in the same town as the parents. The extended family network, as neighbors, is no longer the norm. Most often, it’s the adult child who lives closest to the parents who carries the bulk of the responsibility of elder care.

    Number Three:

    Both spouses work. Often the teenagers are working, as well as going to school. Who can stay home to take care of Grandma, who could, because of her dementia, wander out the door, into the cold, and die?
    Who can stay home to take care of Grandpa, who will find some ingenious way to get the car and go for a spin – with no license, since he’s nearly blind?

    What has happened is that people sit at work and do their best with their jobs, while their brain is on whether the caregiver they hired will remember Grandma’s pills and keep a close enough eye on Grandpa. They fill out forms to get a parent on hospice care, while they are on the phone with a client. They run home during lunch hours to check on “things,” and are up half the night trying to take care of everyone’s needs. They are too wound up to sleep. Too tired to sleep.

    Not very productive you say?

    No. But it happens. Trust me, I know. My last three elders died while I was working full-time, visiting the nursing home daily, begging over the phone for better pain management for my mom and dad, filling out hospice papers (for the record, I wasn’t the one who did it while talking to a client) and all the rest of the baggage that comes with caregiving.

    Even if caregivers are able to physically be on the job and do their duties well, their mind is on caregiving day and night. The worry never goes away. If you are with your Alzheimer’s afflicted parent, it’s draining. If you are not, its – draining. Either way, your mind, or at least a part of your mind, is on the caregiving situation.

  • The Star-Tribune’s H.J. Cummins wrote an excellent column about Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, titled “Is elder care now what child care was in the 1970s?”
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    Cummins interviewed Klobuchar on these very issues - longer lifespans mean more caregiving worries for workers, which equals lost productivity in their jobs.

    Cummins’ column states that Klobuchar “who raised the issue with a congressional hearing Wednesday, said elder care now is what child care was in the 1970s: an issue affecting growing numbers of working families who either have no good options or don't know what help is out there for them.”

    This is an interesting interview and a subject I intend to keep following. Will we eventually find ways to help those who are struggling to do their best for their elders in the same manner we have worked to find ways to help parents with their children?

    Employers will care more, if they are made aware of the productivity they are losing while people are on the job, and the valuable workers they are losing when people feel forced to give up a job.

    Maybe, once employers are more aware, more options will open up. And maybe Sen. Klobuchar is the one who will push this forward.

    Meanwhile, businesses don’t have to wait for the government to tell them how to help their employees.

    They can:

    • Ask what employees need most.
    • Offer a flexible schedule so caregivers can take care of business and legal issues for their loved ones, and attend to emergencies, without worrying about their job.
    • Offer meeting space for a caregiver support group, on site.
    • Obtain (either free or purchased) information, such as support materials from groups like the National Family Caregiver's Association and The Alzheimer’s Association.
    • Actively recruit agencies that offer elder care services to speak at brown bag lunches.
    • Actively recruit people who have been caregivers to mentor caregiving employees.
    • Actively recruit veteran caregivers to speak at meetings.
    • Research respite care options in the community and make those known to staff.
    • Encourage family leave time for an employee who must take a chunk of time off (just as people do after having a baby).

    To learn more about Carol, please go to www.mindingourelders.com or www.mindingoureldersblogs.com.

     

Published On: May 22, 2007