A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: What happens when a loved one in need of assistance is refusing help?

Caregiving, like getting old, is not for the faint of heart, which is why those who provide care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s appreciate convenient access to useful information. Via its interactive telemedicine system, University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging reaches across the commonwealth to act as a resource for caregivers and the hundreds of thousands of people in Kentucky who are impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.

The statistics are sobering: Nationwide, 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, the number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million. One in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or dementia. More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Eighty percent of the long-term care provided to older people is by family and friends.

In rural areas like ours, resources are limited, which is why Murray-Calloway County Hospital is hosting a telemed session on Thursday, April 25, from 5:30 – 7:00 pm in the small learning center on the 1st floor of the hospital’s East Entrance. The interactive session will provide answers to the question, “What happens when my loved one is refusing help?”

Behavioral and medical interventions will be covered, as well as suggestions on ways to advocate for a loved one to ensure appropriate care. There will be time for questions and answers about dementia, brain health, and the care and treatment of loved ones.

Hardin Stevens, Outreach & Recruitment Specialist at the Sanders-Brown Center, coordinates registration for programs at the Center on Aging. In that capacity, he works with community partners to make sure information gets out across the commonwealth for statewide events like the one on April 25.

“Time and distance get in the way when caregivers in rural locations need information,” according to Stevens. “Telemed fills an important niche,” he says. 
Matthew Cornu, a Master’s level intern therapist at the University of Kentucky Family Center, explains that it is typical of an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient to refuse help. As they lose their sense of individuality, he said, they are dealing with grief and sometimes denial. “They know they’re going down,” he explains. “They are feeling stress, anxiety, and depression.”

While the person losing memory struggles, caregivers strive for balance as they tend to an elder parent while also catering to the needs of the family.

“Feelings of guilt are interchangeable with feelings about duty to a parent. It takes a toll,” Cornu says.

Both Hardin Stevens and Matt Cornu give their grandmothers credit for their interest in the care of the elderly. Cornu was 4 or 5 when his grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. An accomplished woman, she was a professor, a successful investor, and a journalist. When her husband died, she began to decline, and then there was the diagnosis.

Cornu’s mother was the sole caregiver from 1999 to 2013. Caregiving was at home and also in residential facilities. “It was hard,” he remembers. “Extremely hard. As I was developing she was regressing.”

He does not sugar coat the stress on his mother and the family, but does recall that as his grandmother faded and became less responsive, the last words she managed to hold on to were, “I love you.”

To register for the free telemed session, contact Hardin Stevens at 859-323-2997 or hardin.stevens@uky.edu. For directions to the Murray-Calloway County Hospital location, contact Carol Perlow at 270-762-1549.

The Sander-Brown Center on Aging provides an array of resources and conducts research on a range of issues associated with aging. Their website is www.uky.edu.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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