Visiting a nursing home to deliver Christmas cheer along with some fruit and warm socks to those who did not often get visitors was an annual tradition in our family.
My four adolescent daughters didn’t always find it so rewarding. Instead, they complained that it smelled funny, or that the elders’ attempt to touch their young, fresh faces made them uncomfortable. Many of the residents didn’t seem particularly happy to see us. They sat there silently, looking vacantly, perhaps into a past that only they could enter. Undeterred and with a promise of ice cream cones after the visit, we continued this tradition for many years.
One year in particular stands out for me. It was after our regular visit to the nursing home, sitting down for the much anticipated ice cream, when nine-year-old Laura asked, “Who’s going to take care of you when you get old, Mommy?” Not waiting for my response, her younger sibling, Rachel, chimed in, “I will, I will!” As the years have passed, I suspect, so has that eager sentiment!
No one ever really thinks much about the eventuality of growing old; it just happens. Way beyond the sagging skin or aching bones, the time comes when someone else is needed to assist with the day-to-day functions of living. Until a few decades ago, caregiving was not considered a job or even a duty, but more an unspoken promise made to family members.
With an overwhelming surge of baby boomers turning 65 since 2011 and the growing number of chronic health conditions plaguing this generation, we also can expect a huge increase in the need for caregivers. According to the American Hospital Association’s (AHA) statistics on boomers, more than 37 million —six out of 10—will be managing more than one chronic condition by 2030.
What does this mean for caregivers? For one thing, caregiving will soon be a career choice that provides abundant job opportunities. For others, caring for a spouse, parent or other family member, it will represent a life-changing experience.
This great quote by former First Lady Rosalyn Carter is a reminder that we must all be prepared for a caregiving role:
“There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states: “More than 34 million unpaid caregivers provide care to someone age 18 and older who is ill or has a disability (AARP, 2008). The majority (83%) are family caregivers—unpaid persons such as family members, friends, and neighbors of all ages who are providing care for a relative.”
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson epitomizes the goal of mmLearn.org to lead the way in training, supporting and educating caregivers and blaze a trail for others to follow. Since its inception in 2006 mmLearn.org, a web-based program of Morningside Ministries in San Antonio, Texas, has held on tightly to the core belief that all caregivers need and deserve the most up-to-date, top quality training when it comes to caring for their aging family members.
It is with this conviction that the staff at mmLearn.org works to bring caregiver instructors who are experts in the field of aging. These include geriatricians, nurses, social workers, clergy and many others who offer insightful and meaningful information to families, church volunteers, and health professionals caring for older adults.
While online training may be easily accessible for most, it can sometimes be more difficult for others, especially those living in rural areas of Texas where access to the Internet is limited. The team at mmLearn.org understood this challenge and quickly agreed on strategies to provide a combination of on-site presentations at public venues, and DVDs of the most in-demand training programs.
One of the on-site presentations that has created a tremendous amount of interest has been the Virtual Dementia Tour.
Created by Second Wind Dreams, this program gives the participant a simulation of what a person with some form of dementia might be experiencing on any given day. With their senses of sight, touch and hearing altered, “tour” participants get a feel for what it’s like to have dementia and other ailments that can accompany old age. Indeed, for many individuals the tour appears to last much longer than the approximate six to seven minutes of the actual experience.
During a debriefing session immediately after completing the tour, participants often shed tears and express a range of emotional and heart rendering feelings, finally understanding the severe impact of the disease on their loved ones:
“I knew this was a short experience and it was easy to cope with the short time frame. The frustration is that a person with dementia must experience must be overwhelming.”
“It helped me understand my grandmother, very impactful. I knew it was difficult, but nothing like this.”
I felt lost, confused. Not being able to see well made me very aware of how my mom who has macular degeneration must feel.”
Even if my now 30-something daughter, Rachel, were thrust into the role of caregiving, she would be quite ill-prepared for the multitude of tasks facing her. The spirit may be willing, but for many family caregivers who unexpectedly take on this challenge, the physical, emotional and psychological demands can be overwhelming. The multi-tasking components of caregiving require a vast amount of time, patience and, most importantly, an understanding of their own need for support in this demanding world of caregiving.
Support comes in many different forms. For some it may be a day of respite, spending time relaxing without time constraints, or just catching up on much-needed sleep. Another type of support may come from the many resources now available for caregivers. This includes support groups, as well as online training classes that provide caregivers with the information and resources they need to make the best decisions possible for their loved ones and for themselves.
Whether it is a discussion on depression among the elderly, a video showing how to transfer someone from a wheelchair into a car, or a short spiritual meditation and prayer, mmLearn.org makes available more than 200 free online videos. mmLearn continues to be on the move, always with an open mind and a spirit of adventure to reach caregivers and provide them with the support where and when they need it. You can reach us at email@example.com or visit our website at www.mmLearn.org.
Virginia R. Valenzuela is a native San Antonian with an MSW from Our Lady of the Lake University and MAPM from Oblate School of Theology. She works with an incredibly talented team at mmLearn.org, a program of Morningside Ministries, that supports and helps train caregivers of older adults via web-based learning. As Director of Community Outreach & Spirituality at Morningside Ministries, her role includes providing video recordings as well as on-site presentations both locally and in rural South Texas communities, writing blogs and the very latest – becoming the social media maven for mmLearn.org on Facebook and @mmlearn_org on Twitter! When she’s not tweeting her heart out – you can find her running around Woodlawn Lake!