November 4, 2015

Daughter Finds Help as Caregiver for Aging Parents

Nov. 4, 2015 | Cora Lee and Arthur “Ott” Ray had been partners in life for many years as they raised their children in Hot Springs.

So when Cora Lee — long after the children had grown up and moved away — was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Ott took that partnership another step as he helped his wife navigate through memory loss and the mental confusion caused by the disease.

And when Ott began losing his vision due to macular degeneration, it was Cora Lee who served as his eyes, helping him navigate through the physical world.

Then three years ago, that helping partnership began to break down when Ott began falling and experiencing the effects of normal pressure hydrocephalus, an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the spaces around the brain. The condition can lead to memory loss and dementia.

To keep it working, they needed the presence of a third person, a caregiver. Maybe it was only natural that the children whom Ott and Cora Lee had guided through their early years would help the Rays to make it through their later years.

When their daughter, Sharon Bridges, saw what was happening in her parents’ lives, she and her husband knew it was time to come home. They decided to retire and move back to Hot Springs after more than 30 years of living in Texas.

Those are the sorts of sacrifices family caregivers make when they are needed by loved ones. About 90 million family caregivers nationwide play a vital role in the care of seniors and others, according to the Caregiver Action Network.

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Sharon explains a document to her mother, Cora Lee.

Sharon’s first role on moving back was serving as a de facto care coordinator between her parents and her sisters, who also were helping out. Together, Sharon and her sisters were able to look after things for her parents, but as Ott’s and Cora Lee’s conditions worsened, their needs grew.

She and her sisters struggled to take care of them as well as they wanted to. They needed help to learn how to give Ott and Cora Lee the support they really needed.

About that time, in the same spirit with which Sharon helped her parents, she volunteered to staff a booth for an organization that supports veterans and seniors. The booth included pamphlets about the UAMS Schmieding Home Caregiver Training Program.

Finally, she thought, someone might be able to answer the questions she and her sisters had.

The program educates individuals to care for older adults in the home, whether they are family caregivers or paid caregivers. Through the Arkansas Aging Initiatives’ Centers on Aging at UAMS, the Schmieding program provides training classes throughout the state, including Hot Springs where Bridges enrolled in her first caregiving class.

“Schmieding gave me information and connected me to additional resources,” Sharon said. “Knowing how to interact with my parents was valuable because of the behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s and normal pressure hydrocephalus.”

Sharon found that some of the ways she was assisting her parents in getting out of chairs and sitting positions could be uncomfortable for them and over time could even damage their joints. Schmieding staff taught her how to provide that assistance while minimizing the risk of injury.

Through the program’s classes, she also learned how to safety proof her parents’ home so slip-and-fall accidents were less likely to happen.

“I certainly felt more equipped after training and was able to really know when we were in over our heads,” Sharon said. “Before Schmieding, it felt a little like we were winging it.”

Her family’s goal was simply to keep her parents in their home. For a time, the Schmieding training helped Sharon and her sisters accomplish that. Even after it became necessary for them to move from their primary residence into a group home with a professional caregiver present, Sharon continued to use the Schmieding training to assist her parents.

Late on a sunny, October morning, Sharon arrived to help Cora Lee get ready to meet with the women in her sewing club. Sharon explained that the members all have aged to the point where sewing no longer takes place, but the women have known each other for decades and still like get together to socialize. Despite her Alzheimer’s disease, Cora Lee still looks forward to seeing old friends. As on many other days, Sharon made sure to be there in time to help her mother get ready and to drive her to the meeting spot.

Her devotion, and that of her sisters, comes from their hearts, but through Schmieding, they have been educated and empowered to give their parents the care they deserved.

November is National Family Caregivers Month.