Editor’s note: We have made this story free to read in hopes that you will see firsthand our dedication to keeping our community informed and connected. Will you consider now? For just $1 a week, you will support non-editorial local news and be up to date on what’s happening in the community. We hope you’ll enjoy this story, and consider reading more by clicking here.
While people are starting to live longer in the modern era, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can care for themselves.
And when their health deteriorates, the burden of care falls to their families.
In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that individuals with diseases related to dementia and Alzheimer’s would double by the year 2060. The increase is due to a few reasons, one of which being expected population increases and more individuals living into older adulthood when their risk of having those diseases increases.
And that increase for a lot of people means the care of a parent falls onto the child.
“It’s really hard for people,” said Diane Hartley, vice president for care coordination for the Peninsula Agency on Aging. “We always have to be respectful of our parents and they will want to make their own choices as long as possible. But at some point it comes to a time when they can’t.”
RELATED STORY: Library’s Getaway Cafe aids adults with early memory loss
Hartley added it’s important to remember that just because a person is elderly doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t make their own decisions. The longer families can allow an aging loved one to live on their own and make their own decisions safely, the better for their mental and physical health.
But as more and more parents creep into old age, their children are finding themselves in the tough position of caring for them while living their own lives.
“It’s absolutely an issue for somebody trying to care for a parent who has advanced dementia,” Hartley said. “Even if you live nearby to take care of them, often times people are working full time jobs.”
Caregiver exhaustion is very real for some people who are balancing work, their families and the care of their parent or loved one. For some, it means round-the-clock care and that level of work can be detrimental to a person’s well being. Hartley said providing time for a caregiver to even just have an hour or two break is important.
That’s why there are places in the area that offer caregiver respite. In Williamsburg, places like the Williamsburg Landing offer respite services such as Adult Day, which provides a location and activities for elderly people and their caregivers.
There are also options such as the Getaway Cafe at the Williamsburg Regional Library, which provides those with cognitive impairments the opportunity to interact, participate in activities and for caregivers to learn from each other.
Those resources are just part of the planning that comes with caring for an aging parent. Hartley said for some people, it’s especially difficult to see their parents getting older so it can become an avoided topic.
“What we always tell people is to plan ahead and be prepared,” she said. “Because as hard as it is to see your parents aging, it’s much worse if there’s an emergency and you’re not prepared.”
But even with those resources, Hartley said the community needs to continue preparing for the growing population of those with cognitive impairments.
Hartley said creating a dementia-friendly community means providing awareness education for individuals in the community through programming. This isn’t limited to locals who are impacted by cognitive impairment, but for everyone because it involves learning to be patient.
Dementia-friendly community means teaching locals not to be frustrated when someone takes too long in line at the store or seems confused when they’re out in public.
“There are certainly lots of people living and working in Williamsburg who have some cognitive impairment or early stages of dementia,” Hartley said. “They’re part of our community and they hope that people will continue to welcome them.”
For more information on the Peninsula Agency on Aging, visit the organization online.