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Sitting in Panera Bread with Kay Dyer the other day I was reminded of the years my late husband and I took care of three of our ailing parents. Within a four-year period, three had died; two of cancer, and we were the caregivers.
Knowing Kay has been in professional caregiving for many years and now owns her own business, I was eager to hear what she had to say and could easily relate to it.
Originally from Vermont with two grown children, Kay and her husband Barry moved into her mother’s house in Sun City Center about 10 years ago and took care of her ailing mom. Fortunately, Kay said, she had two brothers who helped instead of criticized.
“I see so much of that in my work,” she explained. “One person takes on all the day-to-day responsibility and then the others come in for a few days or a week at a time and tell them all the things they’re doing wrong. Yet they don’t offer to stay and help. I was so fortunate. One brother did the financial things, another did the moving. I knew about the medical area so they let me make those decisions.”
Remembering the years she cared for her mother, she says she feels for each client as they go through the many stages of caregiving and has always felt there had to be more she could do for them than just administering a care-giving program.
“Our people go into the home and help in every way possible, from arranging doctor appointments to actually making lists of questions for the doctor and then going with the client so they will get answers,” she said. “People with all sorts of problems tend to say ‘I’m fine’ when they’re in the doctor’s office. It’s just a conditioned response, when they’re really not fine at all and there are a dozen questions they need to have answered.”
Over the years, Kay has had patients in all states of illness, including many with various forms of dementia. She told me about a man who repeatedly put all his clothes in the garbage instead of the hamper.
“What reaction does someone have whose dad thinks he’s on the toilet when he’s really on her white velvet couch?” she said. “I see all sorts of things and I know that any change of setting is traumatic, so I think it’s imperative to keep people in their own homes as long as is humanly possible.”
It is for this reason she has formulated so many services including ways to make sure patients take their medicines and get to all their appointments. Some even forget to eat.
“I’ve partnered with the daughter of a client to write a book called ‘How to Care for Your Elders without Losing Your Money or Your Marbles’,” she said.” Her co-author, Elizabeth Bryson, gives first-person accounts, and then Kay comes in as a geriatric care manager and talks about each particular situation and how it was handled.
“People need to know they’re doing things right,” Kay said. “They tend to doubt themselves because sometimes things get so bizarre.”
Their book is planned as a handbook for people going through caregiving a parent but can help any caregiver, she said.
“It is step-by-step and will be about 300-400 pages. In our outline we have 12 chapters.”
A lot of the book will be references, Web sites and other places readers can go for specific kinds of help.
“Readers will hear both of our voices, it won’t be just me, telling about what happens. You’ll hear Elizabeth’s voice, and she’s the one in the trenches- tractoring in the swamp. The overwhelming feelings come through and others will know they aren’t alone,” Kay said.
Things can become so devastating people just don’t know what to do. And American culture – where productivity is king– doesn’t help.
Kay and I talked awhile about the difference between the Oriental philosophy of looking up to elders and how youths revere their wisdom. Such a difference from American thought, where elders are often looked upon as a burden.
“These people are our parents. They gave us life and we need to remember they deserve respect even if they aren’t the same person they used to be anymore. I learn from my clients every day. They are so resilient. I am often amazed at their good humor and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds,” she said.
Kay has a chapter planned for the times there are no answers, and no right or wrong thing to do. “Sometimes, the only thing to say is something like- ‘hey, let’s just go for ice cream’.”
I was glad to find out Kay has plans to extend her wealth of knowledge on caregiving management into a wider circle. Many readers will benefit, of that I am sure.
*Perhaps you have something you’d like to share. Or maybe you’d rather tell the community about your favorite charity or cause: or sound off about something you think needs change. That’s what “Over Coffee” is about. It really doesn’t matter whether we actually drink any coffee or not (although I probably will). It’s what you have to say that’s important. E-mail me any time and suggest a meeting place. No matter what’s going on, I’m usually available to share just one more cup.
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