Judith Rocha and her mother Socorro Rocha walk through their Chicago neighborhood.
Photo by Alyssa Schukar

By Kelly Ganski

Ever since Judith Rocha’s mother, Socorro, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 12 years ago, Rocha and her sister, Lourdes, have shuttled their mother between their Chicago homes to care for her.

It has taken patience, communication and organization, but being able to tend to their 81-year-old mother is important to both daughters.

Caring for a loved one at home is common in the Latino community, said Álvaro Obregón, associate state director of advocacy and outreach for AARP Illinois, who is a caregiver for his 86-year-old mother and 77-year-old aunt.

“I think that for a lot of us Latinos, putting your parents in a nursing home is the absolutely last option, or not an option at all,” said Obregón.

On average, Latino caregivers spend 44 percent of their annual income on expenses related to their role, according to AARP’s “Family Caregiving and Out-of-Pocket Costs: 2016 Report.”

The cultural dynamics are just one of the factors unique to the Latino community.

AARP Illinois, Rush University and partners will host a bilingual caregiving conference on Saturday, Nov. 17, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Arturo Velasquez Institute, 2800 S. Western Ave., Chicago.

The event will feature Mexican television personality Marco Antonio Regil discussing his own caregiving experience.

Topics will include legal and financial planning, communicating with a loved one, housing, care and service options, transportation, and the emotional and mental health of caregivers. To register, visit aarp.cvent.com/Cuidar2018 or call 877-926-8300.

Support from others is key

“It’s important to know you’re not alone and where to go and whom to talk to. Allow yourself to feel these things, as difficult as they are. Just caregiving itself can be overwhelming,” said Obregón, who lives in a three-unit building in Chicago with his mom, aunt, two uncles and a cousin.

“Communal living is just part of our culture, part of our tradition,” Obregón said. “To me, it’s not even a question of ‘Should I do it?’ She took care of me when I was a child. Why wouldn’t I do the same for her?”

Judith Rocha, 41, has similar feelings. She and her sister, who is 55, have gone to great lengths to keep Socorro in their care while trying to maintain their own lives. Since Lourdes has gotten married, Rocha has tried to shoulder more of the burden.

Looking after her mother made Judith so passionate about caregiving that she earned a doctorate in social work and developed an eight-week program that focuses on the health and well-being of Latinas who assist family members with Alzheimer’s.

Judith, an assistant professor at Northern Illinois University, held focus groups that gave her insight into caregivers’ emotions. Many of the women reported guilt for being tired or for taking time for themselves, instead of doing something for their loved one, she said.

“There were also things like not wanting to ask for help outside of yourself or immediate family members because that may be interpreted that you’re not fulfilling your duty as a daughter or a spouse,” she said.

Rocha took her own advice and learned to ask for help. She and her sister recently began receiving respite services from a home-care agency.

Kelly Ganski is a writer living in Bartlett, Illinois.