Thursday, August 26, 2010

Redefining retirement

One of the pleasures of parenting is meeting other parents who have kids your age.  You sit together at the sidelines of football, softball or soccer fields, cheering on your kid and theirs alike.  During halftime you chat about how busy the kids are, the demands of practice, school and family, and how crazy your lives as parents have become.

When the kids leave home, those casual, informal parent-gatherings are gone – and they leave a void. 

So what a treat to get an email out of the blue a couple of weeks ago from good friend of our college grad daughter, inviting us to a lunch with his parents. 

We instantly connected with that bond you get with people who are going through the same transitions and changes as you are.  Then we started talking about our own lives, now that the kids are grown and gone.

“You just have to redefine yourself,” said Ellen.  “You’re no longer first the parent – or even the professional if you’re retired like we are.”

“How can you retire?”  I blurted.  “What on earth do you do?  You can’t possibly travel, ski and shop all the time.  We’ve got a ton of years ahead of us - healthy, productive years.  What will you do?”

“You redefine yourself – and you redefine retirement,” she replied.

She reached into her pocketbook and pulled out a small book.

“Here’s one thing we’ve been doing,” she said. 

The book was a beautifully written and illustrated guide to learning to ski, complete with photos of body alignment and ski positioning.  Clearly, it had taken a lot of time and effort to create.

“We’re skiers,” she said, “and we thought, ‘Why not put our knowledge to use teaching other people how to ski the easiest way we can?’  So far, the book has been very positively received by ski experts all over.”

She turned the book over and showed me quotes of endorsement written by skiers whose names even I recognized.

We went on to talk about some of the other projects burning inside us, just waiting for the time to get out and get expressed – projects we didn’t have time to tackle when working and parenting on a busy, full-time schedule.  As we talked, I could see that retirement – redefined – could be every bit as busy and productive as our working, parenting years have been.

I must admit, I’m thinking about the whole concept of retirement in a new way these days.  I’m looking ahead to a day when I can devote the skills that I’ve honed, polished and refined over the years to making the world a better place for the coming generations – and have fun doing it. 

I’ll write a book, or maybe paint a picture.

I’ll happily care for my god-children (someday, hopefully, my grandkids, too) and give the young parents in our lives a much-needed break.

No doubt I’ll be busy.  With grace and luck, I’ll be productive and engaged in life – right to the very end.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Personal Care Aides working at povery levels in many states

Imagine working hard every day, caring for people who depend on you to help them with the most basic physical and emotional tasks. Your daily work involves helping your clients slowly, patiently move from their bed to a chair.  You bend and lift, do laundry and vacuum floors every day.  Some of your clients refuse to let you help them, or yell at you when you come to work.

When you go home at the end of the day, your back is sore and your feet are just a little bit swollen.  You want nothing more than to put your feet up and rest a bit.

But you can't. 

You have to go to a second job, or care for your neighbor's kids, or figure out how to pay the utilities before your power is turned off.  You've got to put food on the table and try to figure out how to serve your family satisfying, nutritious meals spending any money.

Your kids are always fussing at you, asking when they can get a new cell phone, a bike, or even a skateboard like all their friends have.  You know you can barely afford to go back-to-school shopping for them, so you just sigh exhaustedly and say - again -  "Not this month."

Welcome to the life of the caregiver today.  In the majority of this country, according to a recent study by PHI, this typical Personal Care Aide earns near poverty level wages - which means less than $10.42 per hour. This caregiver, who works one of the hardest physical jobs and experiences one of the highest risks for on-the-job injury of any worker, not only lives paycheck to paycheck, she also is likely receiving some form of public assistance just to get by.

It's about time we focus on the way caregivers are treated in this country - not only by carefully examining their training and certification prior to working with vulnerable elders, but also in how we compensate them.  It's no wonder that even those most dedicated find they cannot afford to stay in this line of work if they face wages that don't increase year after year, keeping them mired in poverty.

As we baby boomers age, we'll need lots of these caring, compassionate Personal Care Aides, fully trained and prepared to help us live at home, or in care communities of our choosing.  We'll want the good ones to stay, and we'll want them to look forward to coming to care for us and our loved ones, without the looming worry about their economic survival.

As we're beginning to address the vast health care needs in this country, it's the perfect time to get educated about this problem - and begin taking concrete steps to fix it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Selecting a Care Center

Loved this recent New York Times article on selecting a care community, "One Way to Judge a Nursing Home."

In the article, the author talks about trying to select a nursing home for his mother over 10 years ago.  He would ask the person touring him if he could talk to the nurses aides.  All but one said "no" - indicating that their aides hadn't been with them very long.  In the one building that said "yes," he discovered that the nurses aides had all been there for years.  They loved their jobs and felt rewarded and appreciated by the organization.  It was an excellent choice for this author - and great advice to others looking for a place for their loved one.

If you're faced with this challenge, don't look on the outside (beautiful place, doesn't smell) - look at the people.  They're the ones who will be providing the care to your loved one.  They will either become significant people in your loved one's life, caring, supporting, observing and loving them, or they'll be here today; gone tomorrow.

People who become caregivers generally have a deep compassion for the people in their care.  When they leave - which most will, in today's revolving door of caregiving - they are not leaving their clients.  They're leaving organizations that don't provide the training they need to continue to build caregiving skills.  They're leaving supervisiors who are just interested in filling shifts and covering their tasks.

They are leaving, most often, employers who don't recognize, acknowledge and appreciate the physical hard work of a caregiver, not to mention the emotional burnout it's easy to feel when you spend your day caring for people who need you desperately.

Halting turnover is one of the most important things we can do to improve the overall quality of care we give elders in this country.  It's not rocket science, either.  Just good, old-fashioned attention to meeting the needs of the people doing this most vital work.  Training them (a lot), supporting them (emotionally, verbally and financially); appreciating them for the work they do - every single day.