Dee and her brother, Donnie, have always been the best of friends. When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she became his caregiver, too.
For a few years, Dee tried to balance her job as a veterinary technician with providing care, but that was a full-time job in and of itself. After a 32-year career, Dee retired early so she could care for her brother at home.
“I was doing everything,” she says. “I had to pay people so I could get out for four hours here or there. I was always rushing. It really changes your life.”
Many family caregivers report lost wages, decreased employability, and lost savings and retirement due to caregiving. According to a study conducted by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, in conjunction with the National Alliance for Caregiving and the New York Medical College, for the typical woman, the lost wages due to dropping out of the labor force because of adult caregiving responsibilities averages nearly $143,000. A study published in Social Science and Medicine shows that high-intensity caregiving (more than 15 hours per week) is associated with full retirement for men and women.
“I did the best I could for as long as I could,” Dee continues, “but I couldn’t handle my own needs.”
Needing a Break
When Dee wasn’t cleaning Donnie’s dentures, getting his meds ready, or giving him a snack, she tried to fit in some time for her passion — motorcycles. She loves riding and working with a custom motorcycle builder, and every year, she travels with a group of bikers down to Florida for Daytona Bike Week.
Dee knew that if she didn’t take a break from caregiving, it wouldn’t be long before she burned out. “I knew I had to go to Bike Week or I was going off the bridge,” she says.
So she started searching for short-term stay options for Donnie. She called the Alzheimer’s Association and got some referrals. Then she got in her car and started exploring nearby communities and nursing homes.
“I can’t tell you how many places I went,” she says. “If I smelled urine, I walked right out the door and didn’t pursue it. That happened more so in nursing homes. I didn’t like the vibe there at all. I didn’t want to know my younger brother was sitting in a hallway. I wanted something beautiful for him.”
Then a friend told her about The Arbors at Stoughton. Dee called and spoke with Marketing Director Karen Reardon. She learned that The Arbors offers respite care to provide caregivers a temporary rest from caregiving while their loved one gets to test the waters of assisted living.
When Dee stopped by for a tour, she was thrilled with what she found: It was clean. There were activities going on all day long. Her brother, who didn’t speak much, could receive speech therapy. He would have an apartment with a big closet and bathroom and a kitchenette. The community was less than 30 minutes away from her home. It was the perfect place for Donnie to stay while she took a much-needed three-week vacation to Florida.
“When I left, I said, ‘Boy, would I love for him to live here,’” Dee recalls.
Getting Peace of Mind
While Dee was in Florida, she rode her motorcycle on the beach with 80 of her Bike Week friends, and then she spent two weeks visiting with girls she and Donnie grew up with. “I can’t tell you how much I needed that,” she says.
She also heard from Reardon with The Arbors at Stoughton: For a cost-effective stay in assisted living, or for those who want companionship, The Arbors can help match someone with a roommate to share living costs and apartment space in the community. Each resident in a companion apartment has his or her own private bedroom but shares common areas.
Another gentleman Donnie’s age was moving into The Arbors. Would Donnie want to share a companion suite?
Dee was relieved. She enjoyed the rest of her vacation knowing that when she returned, Donnie would have a permanent stay option. “If they didn’t have that option, I’d really be a mess.”
When Dee returned from Florida and walked into The Arbors at Stoughton to see her brother, she knew she had made the right choice.
“There is just this feeling I had when I came in,” she says.
For other families who are feeling the stress of caregiving, Dee says taking time to do the proper research is key. Fancy furniture and beautiful landscaping are enticing, but they’re not indicators of high-quality care.
When you go for a tour, pay close attention to how you feel and what is going on around you. Is the community clean? Are the stairs and hallways well-lit? Are there enough common areas, such as dens and living rooms? Are the residents groomed and dressed appropriately?
Spend time with the staff and residents. Ask them what they like and dislike about the place. How is the care? Is the staff attentive without being intrusive? Are they helpful and accommodating? Is there anything missing?
“Do your homework,” Dee says. “Get the vibes from the people who are going to care for your loved one. Find one that’s convenient because you’re gonna want to visit or bring them things. The cleanliness really makes a difference, too. You’ll get the vibe when you walk in.”
Donnie’s feeling good, too, she says. “He’s getting speech therapy, and he’s saying words I haven’t heard him say in a long time. He seems so content.”
If your loved one is struggling to care for themselves and can no longer live on their own or if you’re burning out due to your caregiving roles and responsibilities, it’s time to start researching your options. Download How to Choose the Right Assisted Living Community for more tips on how to finding the right fit for your loved one.