Kristin Daugherty, Long-Term Care Planner, Certified Medicaid Planner™
Article By Kristin Daugherty, Long-Term Care Planner, Certified Medicaid Planner™ at Steinbacher, Goodall & Yurchak
Hi! My name is Kristin Daugherty, and I am a long-term care planner with SGY. I am one of the few Certified Medicaid Planners in PA. I am also a Certified Dementia Practitioner and additionally an Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Care Trainer which allows me to train other professionals in the community on how to care for and communicate with a person who has dementia. I have been with SGY for over 11 years. Prior to joining SGY, I worked with the Office of Aging for five years assisting families in coordinating services to allow their loved ones to stay at home as long as possible. I am very passionate about the work I do every day. I meet families that are making tough decisions and I know that what I do to help these families is deeply impactful. I also understand that on a personal level.
I remember as a kid standing by the door, watching my mom hastily pack to leave for the airport. Not quite understanding why or where she was going.
I want to share with you my experience about the impact of caregiving.
For most of their life, my grandparents lived in Juniper, Florida. I have so many memories visiting with them growing up. My mom is the youngest of her 3 siblings. Her sister and brothers moved out of Florida when she was still in high school. A few years later, she met my dad while he was attending college in Florida, then they moved to Pennsylvania, where he grew up. Although she moved to Pennsylvania, they did appoint her as their power of attorney.
In the late 80’s, my Gram started with some memory loss which eventually lead to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. In 1991 her Alzheimer’s was declining to the point that it was taking a toll on my grandfather, so the family made a difficult decision to place her in a memory care facility. At this time, I was only 8 years old. My grandfather was very protective of my grandmother and really struggled with the placement, thus beginning an unhealthy pattern over the next 8 years. Of course, nobody could take care of her as well as he could, so every single time something went different than he would have liked, he would take her out of the facility. According to my mom, he actually would “kidnap” her. Just walk out the front door with her! Grandpa would take her home and then she would end up in the emergency room and then admitted into another memory care unit. She would stay at that facility until he was unsatisfied again, “kidnap” her and the vicious cycle would continue – hospital – another memory care unit.
An outsider looking at this situation would see an aging couple cycling through facilities and home care. What they didn’t see was my mom as their power of attorney, having to drop everything, jump on a plane from Pennsylvania to Florida to pick up the pieces. Every single time Grandpa would take Gram from the facility, it was like a ticking time-bomb, mom was just waiting for the crisis. Now let’s remember, not only was my mom dealing with this from over 1,000 miles away, my brother and I were young, so she was missing school events, soccer games, dance recitals, and everything that needed her attention at home. At one point, my mom spent 10 days with her parents, and was finally able to fly home to us, only to have a call waiting for her at home that Gram wasn’t doing well, so she had to jump right back on the plane to Florida!
Now we should take a step back and remember that in the 90’s, we didn’t have zoom, cell phones were barely a thing, so in order to physically see my grandparents, my mom had to get on an airplane (or a 18+ hour car ride) and head to Florida. There was no other option to see her parents.
My Gram passed in 1999, when I was just 16 years old. Unfortunately, Grandpa’s health began to fail rapidly soon after, and he passed a short time later in 2000, when I was just 17.
For roughly nine years of my childhood, my mom was torn between raising her children and caregiving for her parents.
This is why I am so passionate about what I do each and every day because the families that we work with have to make really tough decisions. They often feel alone, overwhelmed, scared, and unsure who to turn to. We offer Dementia Care Planning for the families we help so they never have to feel like they are alone. We live in a world where families are spread all over. Many adult children do not live in the same town, State, or even Country as their parents.
Being a caregiver can be rewarding, but it can also be overwhelming. All caregivers have other responsibilities, a spouse, partner, children, or jobs. And being a caregiver doesn’t just affect the caregiver – it is a ripple effect and can affect everyone and every aspect of that caregivers life!
I think about what this would have looked like for my mom and her family if Dementia Care Planning would have been an option for them. She wouldn’t have had to miss time with her children, jump on that plane every time a crisis arose in Florida, spend countless hours worrying how her parents were doing, and at the end of the day, she would have had peace of mind knowing that she was not only taking care of everyone – but she was taking care of herself.