November 10, 2015

Daughter Sees Aging Through Mother’s Eyes

Nov. 10, 2015 | When Denise Henderson contacted the UAMS Schmieding Caregiver Program, she was searching for help in knowing the best way to care for her mother, who had trouble seeing and breathing.

Henderson’s mother, who lived in Hot Springs, had glaucoma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a disease in which a person’s internal airflow is restricted.


Denise Henderson pauses for a moment in the simulated kitchen and dining area used for caregiver training at the Schmieding Home Caregiver Training Program in Hot Springs.

Henderson wanted to know what it was like to see with her mother’s eyes and breathe with her lungs. The Schmieding instructors knew exactly how to show Henderson what it was like to live with those conditions.

At the Schmieding center in Hot Springs, the instructors had Henderson put on a pair of eyeglasses that simulated the vision of someone with glaucoma.

They also gave her a straw to breathe through so she could feel what it was like to not be able to get a full breath.

“There were little insights that I didn’t have a clue about, things I didn’t understand until then,” Henderson said. “They were so helpful in making me understand what was happening with her.”

She used that knowledge and understanding to make her mother’s last months more comfortable, something she will always be grateful for.

As she cared for her mother, Henderson stayed in touch with her instructors. They were very supportive, continuing to answer her questions when new ones arose. That support was especially important because Henderson was her mother’s sole caregiver. Even though she had no one else to turn to as a caregiver, she could turn to Schmieding.

The program gave her the knowledge she needed, and it also gave her some outside emotional support. She knew she was part of a community of caregiving.

The Schmieding program educates family, friends and others to care for older adults in the home, providing training classes in eight locations throughout the state.

Ninety percent of adults over age 65 prefer to stay in their homes as they age, and family, friends and neighbors provide 80 percent of care for seniors, according to the Caregiver Action Network.

Henderson first realized her mother needed assistance after her health began declining before the death of her husband, Henderson’s father, in 2004. The decline accelerated soon after when she was diagnosed with COPD, then had a heart attack and also was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and glaucoma.

As it became increasingly apparent Henderson’s mother needed help with daily activities, Henderson had a decision to make. Helping her mother in the last years of her life would mean putting aside a professional career she had spent most of her adult life building.

Henderson had a 17-year career with Kraft Foods corporate test kitchen in Chicago. She also taught Southern Living cooking schools for Southern Living Magazine and was a spokesperson for the Reynolds Wrap Kitchens.

Still, her mother needed her and she never regretted the decision to move back to Hot Springs in 2007 to live with and care for her mother full-time.

“When a parent becomes ill, it is every child’s responsibility to care for them,” Denise said.

By 2013, Henderson was searching for more resources as she realized she needed to learn more about caregiving. She enrolled in one of the first classes offered by Schmieding after the program expanded to Hot Springs.

“It turned out to be a godsend that I took the training,” she said. “

Near the end, her mother was immobile and bedridden for two months. Because of that, one of the most useful things she learned was how to change the sheets in an occupied bed.

A bout with pneumonia resulted in Henderson’s mother spending time in an intensive care unit in a Hot Springs hospital, and then a few months back at home before finally transferring to hospice care until she died in June 2014.

“I would have been clueless without Schmieding, and I think she lived much longer than she would have otherwise,” Henderson said.

Having the support of the Schmieding program enabled her to do what she needed for her mother. Now she is ready to start a new chapter and is pursuing a degree in culinary arts with emphasis in wine and spirit studies.

November is National Family Caregivers Month.