LOWELL, Mass. (AP) — On her designated days, Karon Bergeron picks up her mother-in-law from Summit ElderCare and brings her home to her elderly housing apartment in Dracut. On these days and weekends, she makes sure she has everything she needs before bed.
Doris Bergeron, 86, has mild dementia and other health problems that require a great deal of care and attention.
Other family members alternate days of the week for evening duties. Karon’s husband of 45 years, Richard, has one day; her nephew, Nick, another. Her sister-in-law, Linda Clough, goes every morning to see that Doris has her medications and breakfast and helps get her ready for the day. They also have a home health aide that assists with other personal care tasks.
“I can’t imagine doing this alone,” said Karon Bergeron, of Dracut. “We’re so blessed that we have a wonderful family, that everybody does what they can.”
Lowell program gives support to help families with aging loved ones
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Navigating the maze of responsibilities that come with caring for an aging, frail parent or relative can be difficult for anyone. Like many adult children caring for their parents at home, Bergeron, who is vice president of the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce, and her relatives work full time and have families of their own.
The Bergeron family’s schedule was tougher and more hectic before they found Summit ElderCare, a Fallon Health PACE program that opened in Lowell last spring. PACE, or Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, takes care of all of Doris’ medical needs, and gives her a place to be safe and social and have fun during the day.
It also offers respite for caregivers, allowing them the time to relax and take care of their own needs, as well as a caregiver support group. The Medicare and Medicaid program allows seniors to receive care in their community rather than go to a nursing home.
Dr. David Wilner, vice president and medical director of Summit ElderCare, said the duties adult children take on for their aging parents can run the gamut from being a second set of eyes and ears at medical appointments to assisting them through the activities of daily life.
A February study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that people caring for elderly loved ones are more than twice as likely to experience physical, emotional and financial problems, and three times as likely to suffer lost productivity at work due to distraction and fatigue. They’re also five times as likely to miss an important event such as a wedding or a birthday.
“It’s hard to get ourselves to the doctor when we’re worried about our parent’s condition,” Wilner said.
He said PACE is a team-based model with individualized care developed with the participant and the family. Its aim is to help the participant maintain as much independence as possible and improve quality of life for seniors and their caregivers, Wilner said.
The team includes primary-care doctors, nurse practitioners, physical and occupational therapists, social workers and home health aides. If a program participant needs to see a specialist, the team will arrange the services and provide transportation if needed. They also arrange hospitalization and rehabilitative services to get the best possible outcomes for clients and get them back to their homes, Wilner said.
Seniors enrolled in the program get social interaction they may be lacking otherwise, as well as a variety of activities, entertainment and exercise, he said. These pieces improve the physical and emotional health of the seniors, making the job of the caregiver easier, Wilner said.
“During that time, the caregiver doesn’t have to worry about their loved one. They can be off at work, playing golf, getting together with friends,” he said.
Losing independence can be a difficult adjustment for seniors and their family members alike.
Two years ago, Eleanor Lemelin’s mother had a seizure that was the beginning of a rapid health decline.
After a series of falling incidents, the onset of dementia and other health issues, Mary Murphy, 83, had to give up her Lowell townhouse in favor of an assisted living facility. It took Lemelin and her sister a year and a half of research and a lot of dead ends before they were able to get her into Tewksbury’s Bayberry at Emerald Court with help from Summit ElderCare.
It’s close enough that Lemelin, who lives in Tewksbury, can easily pop in and do Murphy’s laundry for her and pick her up for doctor visits, while juggling work and grandkids. If she’s worried about Murphy’s health, she only has to call her nurse.
“To know I have all the support I need for her just a phone call away, and they respond immediately — it’s like an extended family,” said Lemelin, 58. “It’s unbelievable.”
The day after Betty Lutz’s husband Kevin, 60, asked her to marry him, he had a stroke that would forever alter the course of their lives.
Left with a weakened left side, he required 24-hour care. Lutz, 59, of Dracut, has cared for him for the last 15 years through a number of medical issues, including diabetes, which led to the amputation of his left leg above the knee, and a bone marrow disorder that could progress to leukemia.
Because of the stroke, he has cognitive issues and a diminished sense of both physical sensation — he can’t tell when he’s sick — and emotional feelings, Lutz said.
“I’m sure deep down he loves me, but he doesn’t understand what that is,” she said. “He knows that I’m here and that he can count on me.”
The experience has been difficult and isolating for Lutz, but she cares deeply about him and takes her marriage vows seriously.
Both of them lost their jobs after the stroke, and Lutz has only been able to take on odd jobs here and there while caring for her husband.
He’s been going to Summit ElderCare since June, giving her time to run errands, take care of herself and connect with other caregivers for support while knowing his needs are being met.
“It really is such a stress relief,” Lutz said.
Summit ElderCare’s PACE program is just one of several options for families with senior relatives in need of care. Element Care also offers a local PACE program. Senior Care Options (Navicare through Fallon Health) is a comprehensive health plan available through Medicare and MassHealth.
Information from: The (Lowell, Mass.) Sun, http://www.lowellsun.com