Age of Caring

                                                                                                                                       Published in  the Detroit Free Press November 26, 1989


        A popular myth says Americans do not take care of their aging parents, that we’re quick to warehouse them in nursing homes, that other cultures revere elderly people while we reject them.

        Tell that to Pat Kipley of Brighton, whose mother, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, moved in with the five-member Kipley household in 1985.  Kipley is a member of what some call the “sandwich generation,” caught between caring for her mother and her children.

        Look at Ray Noe of Ypsilanti, his four adult children and their spouses, who come to his home for four-hour shifts every day to care for him. They fill in the gaps left by professional health-care workers, and provide the emotional and moral support that can only come from family.

        Or consider Pat Jones of Detroit, who quit school and her job to move back in with her mother, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. “You can’t truly repay your parents,” she says. “They’ve had too many years head start on you.”

        But, she says, you can try,

        Only 5 percent of the nation’s 65-and-older population is in nursing homes at any one time. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) 80 percent of senior citizens who are in need of long-term care rely on family or friends.  A good portion of that help – from transportation to 24-hour care – comes from their children.

        This is not “someone else’s issue.”  It is destined to affect the majority of families. Demographers predict that by the early part of the next century, as much as 25 percent of the U.S. population will be over age 65. While aging is not synonymous with dependence or frailty, the need for assistance increases with age and its accompanying ailments.

        As the U.S. population ages and life expectancy increases, there will be more elderly people with chronic illness, but fewer family caregivers.  Michigan Department of Management and Budget figures show that by 2020, Michigan’s over-65 population will have increased 83 percent, while the general population growth will be 11.5 percent.

        Just as changing demographics will affect families, they will also affect the workplace, in part because of the increase in two-income families.  The Older Women’s League, a national organization, predicts that care of the elderly will be the No. 1 workplace issue of the 1990’s.

        Even now, some companies report an increase in absenteeism among workers who are caring for aging relatives.  IBM has begun a referral program for employees, directing them to eldercare services.   A recent national AT&T contract allows for up to 12 months of unpaid leave over a 24-month period to care for a relative.  And many day-care centers for the elderly are being established in conjunction with child-care facilities.

        Behind the statistics are real people:

        Pat Kipley urging her mother, a former nurse, to fight Parkinson’s by making the most of her physical capabilities.

        Ray Noe’s four children - who say he was always there for them - shaving him, helping with meals, helping teach him to walk again.

        Pat Jones – who says, “My mom used to tell me ‘once a man, twice a child’ ” coping with the childlike responses born of her mother’s Alzheimer’s.

        Those who were fed now feed.  Those who shakily took those first steps toward outstretched hands, now reach

back to support faltering legs.

        This special report, which continues on Page 4H, is about the generations. It is about aging parents, and those who care for them, about those who may be called on in the future, and about those who will need help themselves someday.

Daughter balances family, ailing mother

        It’s 7:45 a.m.  Pat has coaxed her mother, Charlene, out of bed in the corner area carved for her out of the family room, coached her while they walked to the bathroom and brought her clothes. While Charlene sits on the toilet, Pat pulls a white blouse over her mother’s head and slides a pair of black slacks over her feet and ankles.

        Pat walks upstairs to the kitchen; her mother slowly stands up.

        Charlene demands help pulling up her slacks.

        “Patty, help me. I can’t do this.”

        “Straighten your legs,” Pat shouts back. “Stand up straight; it will work a lot better.”

        Returning, standing outside the bathroom door, Pat continues. “Walk over to the bar. You can do it. You just have to work at it. Look up at the picture. Reach behind your back. Stand up straight, Mom, it works better.”

        Charlene moans, one hand gripping the brown towel bar, the other hanging at her side

        “You can’t pull them up unless you get behind and straighten yourself up.” Pat says. “Behind your back. Behind. Where’s behind?”

        Moaning again, Charlene moves her hand and tugs at the elastic on the back of her slacks.

        “There, you got it.” Pat says. “Come up, think up, be up.”

        Charlene turns toward the doorways, peeks at herself in the mirror, closes her eyes and sighs.

        “I hate getting up in the morning,” she says.

        Pat Kipley, 46, calls her life a balancing act, using work like “yo-yo” to describe a typical day. She talks about family and love, but also mentions anger, fear and frustration.

        It depends on what day you catch her.

        Almost five years ago, Charlene Keefe, then 72 and suffering form Parkinson’s disease, moved into the Kipley family’s tri-level home in Brighton Township with Pat, her husband, John and their children, Ann, now 21, Cindy, 19 and Mike, 16.

        Every day, Pat prepares meals for her mother, and helps her dress and wash. She drives her to the doctor, takes her shopping, manages her finances, performs tasks of person hygiene that a child never dreams of handling for a parent, monitors her medication, fills her prescriptions, patiently watches over her during occasional “face-away” episodes, and tucks her into bed with a kiss. Then, Pat starts all over again the next day.

        The daughter also works to juggle these duties with her roles as mother, wife, and nearly full-time computer and clerical worker at the real estate agency where her husband is the managing broker.  She fears shortchanging her children and husband. Though Charlene goes to a day-care facility or has a sitter while her daughter works, Pat estimates that caring for her mother fills about half her waking hours.

        “Sometimes,” Pat says, I feel like I am running two households, hers and ours, and am working. There is not enough time in the day to put all my hats on.”

        She says she wishes her brother, Alex Keefe, 50, who lives in Dallas, would visit more often and play more of a role in their mother’s care.

        Pat accepts nearly sole responsibility for her mother’s physical care. Although she emphasizes that her husband and children are willing to fill in when she asks. But she would rather rely on her family for emotional and moral support. “Having someone say ‘ I understand’ means more than if they did everything. It’s a look or a hug.”

        She insists that it’s other “little things” that keep her going – neighbors who are willing to pitch in, relatives who can be called on when needed to stay with her mother in a pinch, or friends who carefully look at her for signs of stress.

        Pat says she cares for her mother out of love, not out of obligation.

        “You just don’t cast a loved one aside,” she says. “I love her … you can’t be a peace with yourself if you are doing something you don’t want to do.”

        “I feel God’s give me the strength to handle this …  He doesn’t give us more than we can handle, but sometimes He pushes his luck.”

        “It looks like a drag, and feels like a dray, but its part of life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”