By Hollie Deese
Judy Elaine Davis, of Memphis, thought she understood full-time caregiving after relieving her mother from the stress of tending to Davis’ grandparents for years. But six months after her grandmother died, her mother, Ruth, who was then 75, was diagnosed with dementia and needed help herself.
“I thought this would be easy-peasy,” said Davis, 55. “It was not. Mother was very resentful. She was agitated. She was aggressive, physically and verbally.”
Davis struggled for years to handle her mother’s care herself while dealing with losing her job, financial challenges and in-home help who stole from her. Then Davis’ daughter found Alzheimer’s & Dementia Services of Memphis, a nonprofit day program. Davis began taking her mom and, a few years later, got a job there.
“When I started to breathe, I realized that the fire I had been in, no one else should have to be in,” Davis said.
Most Tennesseans 45 and older have either provided unpaid care for a loved one or expect to, an AARP survey found.
To better prepare them, AARP backed the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, a version of which has passed in more than 40 states. It requires hospitals to give caregivers guidance on medical tasks.
State officials approved its provisions through regulation instead of legislation, and the rules are going into effect this month.
Hospitals must show and tell
Under the requirements, the name of a caregiver is recorded when a patient is admitted. Staff must notify that person when the patient is being discharged and offer live instruction of medical tasks like injections and wound care.
Caroline Tippens, assistant general counsel of the state Department of Health, said the CARE regulations make it clear that an unrelated person can be a designated caregiver. For example, older people who are alone sometimes have only a neighbor who can take care of them, but that neighbor may have no legal authority to do so. The new rules clarify this type of situation, Tippens explained.
Betsy Wood, AARP Tennessee’s advocacy director, said she hopes the CARE provisions will cut down on hospital readmissions and give patients and their loved ones better overall care.
“I think that any policy change that will assist caregivers with information and education to better equip them to care for their loved ones is a step in the right direction,” Wood said.
Elizabeth Moss, founder of Caregivers by WholeCare, an in-home-care business in the Nashville area, said education for caregivers will do wonders for families.
“We often run across families who don’t know how to properly set up the oxygen machine, or they forget that they can’t increase the amount without a doctor’s order,” she said.
AARP Tennessee is planning an education campaign to let the state’s 980,000 caregivers know about the CARE provisions through community partners, social media and a telephone town hall.
“I tell Mom all the time, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, but we are going to make it through,’ ” Davis said. The CARE rules could help Tennessee caregivers do more than just that.
Hollie Deese is a writer living in Gallatin, Tenn.