For many caregivers, the responsibilities for tending to an elderly loved one can become a life-altering event, often meaning that their own lives and careers are put on hold.
Cecilia Ebron’s mother suffered a massive stroke in April 2012, affecting the left side of her body and leaving her with diminished mental capabilities. Rehabilitation at WakeMed Rehabilitation Center helped her regain most of her physical functionality, but the mental deficiencies remained. Her mother now required constant supervision.
Cecilia was facing her own health issues before her mother’s stroke and had just taken a leave of absence from her job at CCBI Securities to rehabilitate from knee surgery. After an almost three-month stay in the hospital and in an in-patient rehabilitation center, her mother was discharged. Since Cecilia was the only sibling not working, full- time care for her mother fell on her.
For Cecilia, the former New York City police officer and experienced law enforcement professional, the role as full-time caregiver could not have come at a worse time. She was recovering from her own health issues and actively seeking new employment. At the same time, she was caring for her grandson after school so her daughter could work. Knowing that her mother would require full-time care for the immediate future, Cecilia turned down a potential job at the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to assume a new role as a temporary caregiver for her mother.
Due to her lack of significant physical limitations, Cecilia’s mother qualified for only three hours of in-home care per day through Medicaid.
“She does have an aide come in to assist her for three hours a day,” says Cecilia, “[But] where does that leave me, to go out and take care of things for myself or for employment?”
“I am sitting here with the same skill set I had years ago, which is decent, however law enforcement is really fast-paced,” says Cecilia. “It moves. It doesn’t wait for anybody. I could be going to classes, but I am not able to do that because in the timeframe her [in-home] aide is here I am going out washing her clothes or putting the food away—there are all kinds of things that happen, and I am focused 100 percent on her needs.”
The day-to-day stress of caring for a loved one with decreased mental capacities can be overwhelming. It is not uncommon for Cecilia’s mother to resist taking her medications or forget that she has already taken them. There have been instances of her mother wandering from their apartment in the early morning hours or becoming confused and calling 911.
After almost a year of being out of work and caring for her mother and grandson, Cecilia has made the difficult decision to place her mother in a nursing-care facility. Financially, she is at a point where she can no longer afford to be out of work. Mentally and emotionally, she is drained from constant demands of being a full-time caregiver and the stress of the constant battles with her mother.
The decision, however, has only complicated Cecilia’s current situation. In addition to cramming grocery shopping, laundry, and a job search into a mere three hours a day, she now has to find the time to research and visit area nursing homes.
“[Medicaid] gives you 45 days and my 45 days have run out, so I have to start the whole process over,” says Cecilia. “I’ll be told about a place, then go visit and it is so depressing looking. I don’t want her walking into a place where everyone is looking like they are on their last leg. That is not going to help her.”
She has found facilities she likes, but they have either been at capacity or do not accept Medicaid or Medicare.
Cecilia is grateful for the in-home aide Medicaid has provided and the time she has been able to spend with her mother and to help ease her transition. However, coming face-to-face with her mother’s condition and the reality of someone needing 24-hour care has caused her to worry about her own aging and the future possibility of needing long-term care herself.
“I am probably in a bad place, because I haven’t been working,” says Cecilia. “The money that goes in for that type of care, I am losing it as we speak, because I am not employed. I’ve been talking to my sister and I actually need to get an IRA going. Since I don’t have money saved, it scares me. It really, really scares me now. I’m on the inside looking out. I see what is available and it is not good.”
Todd Brantley is a researcher and writer from Raleigh. Amy Brantley is a medical instructor and physician assistant at Duke Family Medicine Center in Durham.