Kupuna Transition

We have likely all seen news stories showing the rain and destruction that Hurricane Harvey brought to Texas in the past couple of weeks. Being in the aging industry, I couldn’t help but worry about the older citizens of Texas who were stranded, as physical and cognitive challenges can leave them so very vulnerable when it comes to evacuating in times like these. I am grateful for the heartfelt stories and images of rescue and care for fellow citizens needing help which gave us hope from afar.

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We have likely all seen news stories showing the rain and destruction that Hurricane Harvey brought to Texas in the past couple of weeks. Being in the aging industry, I couldn’t help but worry about the older citizens of Texas who were stranded, as physical and cognitive challenges can leave them so very vulnerable when it comes to evacuating in times like these. I am grateful for the heartfelt stories and images of rescue and care for fellow citizens needing help which gave us hope from afar.

A photo went viral of nursing home residents walking and reclining in waist deep water. The owner of La Vita Bella, a nursing home in Dickinson, Texas, explained that emergency responders had instructed them to stay put so they would not be caught in the dangerous storm that awaited them outside. The water rose quickly, and it was then too late to do anything but anticipate their rescue.

The beautiful outcome of this story is that hours later they were safely transported to Laurel Court, a nursing home located about 12 miles inland, and were provided the comforts of home. It is in times of disaster that the kindness and generosity of others are plentiful and heartwarming. Societal barriers get stripped down to the most basic values of life and safety, and everyone works together in order to ensure survival. Eventually, the floods recede and everyone takes stock of the damage done and start getting busy rebuilding their lives, not unchanged by the circumstances that led them to that point.

Caring for a vulnerable adult loved one can create a similar sense of anxiety for those who have to start anew after a traumatic event. Once a diagnosis or injury occurs, everyone has to take stock of the current situation and decide what to do. First and foremost is survival, and how to keep their loved one safe. Then decisions need to be made about whether to get their loved one back to a similar sense of normal or make a dramatic change that is uncertain yet seems necessary for the long run.

What family members may not realize is that caregiving doesn’t always require dramatic changes. I have seen and heard tales about family members moving relatives closer to “home” in order to assist them, yet finding that such a drastic move was unnecessary and even harmful to their emotional well-being. Partnering with a variety of professional organizations can help create an individualized system that meets the needs of the older adult in a positive way. They can also assist in creating more than one type of alternate plan, so choices can be made if the weather starts to change.

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Planning ahead and doing some advanced legwork can help supportive family members feel more like the person driving the boat, offering rescue, rather than the person flagging that boat down. Educating oneself as to the different programs available in the community of the adult loved one, and understanding costs, supportive funding and different care environments is similar to stocking up on water, battery-operated radios and food supplies. These small steps will help you avoid the sensation of standing in waist deep water and wondering how on earth you got there.

Karyn Clay is a gerontological specialist who began caring for older adults 23 years ago and earned her B.A. in gerontology from SDSU in 1998. She founded Ho’oNani Day Center in 2002 and Ho’oNani Care Home in 2015, which make up Ho’oNani Adult Care Services, Inc. and are located on the same property in Kamuela. She also leads Caregiver Conversations gatherings at Tutu’s House the first Wednesday of every month, except November.