South Charlotte

Coping with the challenges of caregiving

When Lynn Ivey took a six-month leave of absence from her job as a senior vice president at Bank of America in 2004 to care for her aging parents, she was completely unprepared. Her mother had suffered a series of strokes and had dementia, and her father was struggling to take care of his beloved wife.

"I felt challenged trying to help my parents make decisions, or make them for them, when I really didn't know exactly what they wanted. A straight forward, honest communication wasn't easy because of the parent-child relationship and I had no training, no examples to follow," said Ivey, 55.

Today, Ivey is dedicated to providing both the elderly and their caregivers the tools they need to navigate unfamiliar territory.

Inspired to start a new career after caring for her parents, in 2008 she opened The Ivey, an upscale SouthPark day care center for cognitively and functionally impaired adults.

Starting Oct. 1, The Ivey is partnering with Queens University of Charlotte to offer "Caring for the Elderly," a community program that provides essential information to equip individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to care for the elderly.

The program is broken up into five sessions and covers every aspect of caregiving, from handling daily activities to finances to end-of-life care.

After Ivey attended the first caregiving series at Queens last spring, she felt many more people could have attended the program if they had care, freeing them to attend. She suggested that The Ivey co-sponsor the series and open its doors each Saturday for families needing care while they attend the programs.

More than 65 million people, 29 percent of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend, according to The Alliance for Aging research. Statistics show that these numbers are going to rise due to the "Silver Tsunami" that began this year as the first baby boomers turned 65.

By 2030, almost one out of every five Americans - some 72 million people - will be 65 years or older. By 2050, the 65 and older population is projected to be between 80 and 90 million, with those 85 and older close to 21 million.

Heather Roberts, instructor/program coordinator for Nursing Continuing Education at Queens, feels the "Caring for the Elderly" program will arm caregivers with the resources and knowledge needed to best care for their loved ones and for themselves.

"Most people that end up in this role are not fully prepared for the responsibility; they don't realize what they are getting into and have no idea where to begin in search for help," said Roberts, 40, a registered nurse. "Most of them feel like they are all alone in their role, which can negatively affect personal relationships, as well as their personal health and quality of life."

The classes, which can be taken individually or as a series, cover topics like daily care, Medicaid/Medicare, care planning for veterans, financial abuse of the elderly, options for elder care, self care for the caregiver, communicating with health-care providers, hospice, estate planning and more.

Education about dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's will be highlighted as well.

Ivey says her family's lack of education about dementia kept them in denial.

"All of us garnered hope for a recovery every time we caught a glimpse of cognition from my mom. Then the disappointment and despair crept in when the cognition was gone."

Another thing that proved difficult for Ivey was watching the toll caregiving took on her father.

"Over time, his sharp focus on their personal finances, laundry, cooking and housekeeping became very sloppy," she said. "I didn't even realize how bad the financial tasks had deteriorated until much later when much had to be cleaned up. He just grew very tired, very stressed, very depressed from the grief he was feeling while watching his spouse of 51 years decline before his eyes."

Roberts says the "Caring for the Elderly" series will empower caregivers to feel confident and comfortable in what they are doing and to help them realize they are not alone.