Discovering The True Cost Of At-Home Caregiving
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's return now to our series Family Matters. Today, we're meeting a family that sees a storm on the horizon. There are a lot of financial and emotional decisions ahead. It all hinges on a very conscious choice to keep an ailing family member at home, no matter the cost.
YOLANDA HUNTER: Sing your favorite song.
IDA CHRISTIAN: What is my favorite song?
HUNTER: OK. I'm going to say the first couple of words: It's your thing, do what you wanna do.
CHRISTIAN: (Singing) It's your thing, do what you wanna do...
GREENE: Ida Christian is 89 years old, and dementia is taking its toll. She's a frail woman who loves to sing, and also occasionally talks about her career as a seamstress. But nowadays, she needs a lot of help, and she gets it from her caregiver, Yolanda Hunter, who is also her granddaughter.
HUNTER: Nanny, finish this up. You got to finish that up, OK? You have to eat that.
CHRISTIAN: Yes, yes, yes.
HUNTER: You got to get your medicine, so you have to eat.
GREENE: Yolanda is a petite, energetic woman. She's 43 years old, and she made the tough decision to quit her job as a human resources manager at a nonprofit to take care of her grandma full-time. But she still treats this experience like a job.
HUNTER: Like, this is the binder that we put together that I check in, like, every day. So, every morning, I put in the time that I've arrived and then the time that I departed.
GREENE: And when Yolanda leaves for the day, her mother, Geneva Hunter, comes home from work and takes over. Geneva is Ida Christian's daughter. She's this elegant woman who sits up tall and proud, even as she speaks of watching her mom fade away.
GENEVA HUNTER: I call this such a cruel death, because it takes your mind away.
GREENE: And Geneva is also dealing with the pain of watching her own daughter take on so much.
HUNTER: I remember her calling me at work the first time that she had to start bathing my mother from head to toe and really look at her, how much weight she had lost, and that sort of thing. And it was very painful for her. And she called me crying.
HUNTER: All right. Brush here. Brush your teeth for me. Turn it this way. I never know what's going to happen from day to day. Some days, she'll just look at the toothbrush and won't know what to do with it.
GREENE: Yolanda, the granddaughter, had only planned to take a year off. It's been over two. And one thing she's learned through this experience: It's hard.
HUNTER: And I used to hear about people saying, oh, you know, we got to put our parents in a home. We can't deal with it anymore. And I used to think, oh, how cruel of you. You know, but now, I understand how people get to that last possible moment. It takes over your entire life.
GREENE: And that's not what Geneva wanted for her daughter Yolanda.
HUNTER: I've always wanted the very best for her. I want it even more now. I do want her to go back to work and be happy. You know, I want her to have her life back.
GREENE: Because Yolanda's reality now is she feels isolated from her friends. Her career is on hold, and she's burned through her entire savings.
HUNTER: I'm 43 years old. I'm in the prime of my earning potential years. I've got to get back to work if I'm going to have, you know, a 401(k). If I want anything to retire on, I've got to get back to work, because I virtually have to start all over.
GREENE: And so this is the moment of reckoning. Without Yolanda there to take care of her grandmother, the family will need a professional, full-time nurse, and they're still figuring out how they would pay for that. But Geneva says they are going to make this work.
HUNTER: Sometimes, I just stop and look at my blessings. And sometimes I just stop and look at my mother, and she's still here. And she looks good. And she's healthy. She's well taken care of, and that means so much to me.
GREENE: We'll be returning to Geneva and her family in a few weeks. We have some really powerful images of them at our website.
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