About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.
What is the top challenge facing in-home care in your city, and what is your proposed solution?
Essay response by Allison Momb, George Fox University
Because I am a caregiver for seniors in a private residence, I have a great deal of empathy for seniors and the difficulties that they face as they require more care, and how they approach that care. Newberg is interesting in that there is a large assisted living and nursing center named Friendsview in the area, as well as a major hospital (Providence, with a dedicated Home Health center) and George Fox University. Newberg has a fascinating population; of course, there are the nuclear family units and their children who they are raising in a predominantly Christian setting, but there are also many college students and middle aged people who have aging parents. For many of those aging parents, the challenge lies in their income and the choice before them: Assisted living, or in-home care?
Assisted living can seem like an attractive choice, especially to seniors who don’t want to be a burden to their children and relatives. Americans have a strong sense of individuality, and it doesn’t occur to them that at some point, they may have to take care of aging parents or relatives (when I asked my peers at George Fox, many of them had to pause and say, “Me?” or, “But my parents are still taking care of my little brother!”). I had hardly considered being a caregiver for my own parents; but encountering a family where my boss had taken care of both her parents and her husband’s parents was quite an eyeopening experience. North Americans have a peculiar focus upon the immediate nuclear family unit; many other cultures, such as my Arab roommate’s family, would never dare send their grandparents or aging parents to a retirement or nursing home—family belongs at home with family, no matter the expense or the inconvenience. Assisted living can be costly, and the evaluation of a good facility is necessary to ensure the well-being of loved ones. Seniors may have reduced income or even limited funds, and with the average age of Americans increasing, a senior can easily live in a home for twenty years if funds are available.
So, what of other options? In Newberg, many families have turned to being caregivers for their aging parents, such as the family that I work for. Caregivers face incredible amounts of stress and emotional distress, especially when they are faced with tasks such as feeding, bathing, and assisting confused parents (who may not recognize their children, especially with the onset of dementia or other related mental illness). Seniors may also face stress in this situation if they feel embarrassed (especially if they become incontinent) or if they do not have the funds to support their own care. Family caregivers may have to modify their home, their expenses, and put aside their own needs when faced with full time care. In-home assistance through hospitals or other businesses can be costly long term, but the family I am assisting is carefully managing external and internal care for optimal comfort for our two seniors.
I believe one of the most important steps that can be taken to make the transition to long term and end of life care is to inform. As I mentioned before, many young adults (and even middle aged adults) do not know the options that are available to them, and some hospitals and retirement or nursing communities offer helpful seminars. In order to ensure quality in-home or out of home care, it’s necessary to provide the family with the resources and information that they need before they are faced with the situation of making decisions for the seniors in their lives. Most importantly, the seniors themselves need to be involved with the decision making process as much as possible to guarantee autonomy and respect for their wishes. I would suggest, especially for the college town that I live in, that my university (and universities all over the nation) should address the issue of aging parents and elderly relatives in order to prepare students for the inevitable, for many of them. George Fox University also has the unique position of being right across the street from Friendsview Retirement community, offering them the ability to coordinate seminars with Friendsview or other local businesses (such as Providence). Overall, I believe the goal should be to inform and reassure those who can be placed in a position of care-giving.
Allison is a sophomore at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. She is majoring in Social Work with a minor in Spanish.