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Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist Sandra Little

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenSeptember 4, 2013

A Place for Mom is proud to announce the commencement of their annual $1,000 scholarship for advancement in the field of gerontology. This is a general scholarship which will award the selected applicants with a financial donation. We have narrowed-down the finalists, which includes Sandra Little.

Congratulations to Sandra Little, Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist! Read Sandra’s essay below and vote for her if you think she deserves to be one of the 5 recipients of the $1,000 scholarship awards.

Sandra’s Essay

The Silver Tsunami Rumbles

It’s Time to Find Higher Ground for The Caretakers!

I have always loved public television and documentaries.  At age thirty-four I turned on the TV and started to clean.  I soon found myself sitting on the edge of my bed captivated by a show on Alzheimer’s.  I felt something thick like Pepto-Bismol washing…slowly…over my soul.  The room seemed to fade as it hit me ­ my best friend, my beautiful, intelligent, 54 year old mother was losing her mind.  It all made sense now; the Christmas I was unemployed and she forgot to tell me the family had decided not to exchange presents, my wedding reception when she had failed to perform her one task of distributing the party favors we had spent days assembling.   How was it possible?  Wasn’t Alzheimer’s an old person’s disease?

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I spent a lot of time in the Alzheimer’s wing of the nursing home where my mother was the youngest resident.  I watched helplessly as she lost her abilities one by one.  The seizures came, and then the reactions to the medication.  She once slapped a friend of mine.  Eventually, she lost the ability to hold her head up and it rested permanently on her chest.  My mother’s third husband (a heavy drinker) had the HIPPA rights and didn’t include me in decisions.  I never knew if she would be at the nursing home, or at the hospital, when I arrived after my hour and a half drive.  My brothers visited once a year.  During the last few years she became catatonic and seemed to dwell in the realm of trapped spirits.  I cried on every lonely drive.  I cried all the time.  Year after year, as I prayed for my mother to find peace, I became depressed, isolated and physically depleted.

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” ‑ Helen Keller

I share my story so that you will understand the passion of my calling.  I want to provide support for those struggling to care for their loved ones.  At last count, there were 66 million unpaid and unsung elder-caregivers in the U.S.  Of that number, 20 percent have lost income by either having to reduce work hours or quitting their jobs.  According to the New York Business Group on Health, Inc., almost $34 billion is lost annually on elder-care responsibilities.  More productivity is affected due to elder-care issues than those of child care.  Almost half of all caregivers are over age 50, making them more vulnerable to a decline in their own health.  One-third of 50 plus caregivers describe their health as fair to poor.  It is clear that caregiving exacts a heavy emotional, physical and financial toll.

I want to start a grass roots community-based organization to provide caregiver support.  Caregivers need emotional, physical, financial and even legal support.  I recently contacted the Missouri Lifespan Respite Coalition but, found that they cancelled their last annual meeting and haven’t posted anything on their Facebook page for a year.  When I looked at their fact sheet I found that “The Missouri Lifespan Respite Coalition does not have paid staff.” and “The Missouri Lifespan Respite Coalition does not have funding.”  The state of Missouri also doesn’t seem to have an official Respite Care Program.  The Alzheimer’s Association has a Respite Assistance Program that only serves 28 county service areas.  It seems that my state in particular needs assistance in this area.

There are many services that can be provided to frazzled caregivers including:  in-home care services, adult day center, assistance with chauffeuring seniors to appointments, stress reducing yoga classes, and even a hotline for emergencies or for when things get too overwhelming.  Support groups and therapy are important as well.  I also want to provide special treats such as massages and special pampering days.  During my research for this essay I read about a cerebral palsy respite program where they provided fun outings combined with caregiving support.  In their program, they would provide an in-home caregiver for a night, a meal out, entertainment and a hotel room.  I was also thinking about fun group activities for caregivers, like hiking or comedy club visits.  This is my vision.  I sincerely hope you help me to achieve it.

View other Senior Care Innovation Scholarship FinalistsDon’t hesitate to congratulate and vote for Sandra in the comment form below if you think her essay is one of the most compelling of all the finalists. Keep in mind we are awarding 5 of the finalists with $1,000 which they can use toward their studies.

Dana Larsen
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Dana Larsen
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