CARING FOR THE CAREGIVERSNEVINS ADULT DAYHEALTH CARE STEPS IN FOR CHILDREN OF ELDERLY PARENTS

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BY JENNIFER AMY MYERS, Valley Dispatch Staff

METHUEN — “Another bride, another groom . . .” Gracemarie Tomaselli prompts her mother, Mary.

“Another sunny honeymoon; another season, another reason for makin’ whoopie,” Mary boldly sings in return.

Mary Tomaselli was once a brilliant entertainer, performing magic tricks and singing songs for any audience. Even today, as she sings, her eyes dance with enthusiasm and youth. But Mary is now 93 and suffers from dementia. Her talent could not be stolen by age or disease, but her independence has. She requires constant supervision in her Lawrence home.

Gracemarie and her sister, Joyce Tomaselli, find themselves in a situation shared by thousands of baby boomers throughout the Merrimack Valley — caring for an elderly parent at home while balancing their own lives.

The Tomasellis were among about a dozen caregivers who on Nov. 17 attended a panel discussion to educate families and older adults about home- and community-based services at the Nevins Adult Day Health Center.

“We have an $18 million budget and no one knows about us,” said Janice Hrenko, community educator from Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, an organization that provides a variety of services to seniors in 23 Merrimack Valley cities and towns.

“Caregivers are the best martyrs,” she continued. “They fill this incredible responsibility of doing everything themselves, but there are a lot of services available designed to give caregivers a break and some piece of mind.”

Hrenko explained that there are respite-care scholarships available through Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley for anyone caring or a person over the age of 60. From $500 to $1,000 a year can be awarded to a caregiver to provide for a homemaker to come in for a few hours at a time to care for their loved one, while they go shopping or to a party or wedding.

“I live this every day,” Gracemarie said. “If I ever want to go to a party, a dance, on a date, I can’t, but I’m not crazy about having someone come into my house.”

“You are going to get to a point where you have to ask if you are willing to give up everything in your life for your mother, or will you be able to place some trust in someone else?” Hrenko said.

Homemakers meet with the family and the elder to make sure it’s a good match before being placed in the home, Hrenko added.

There is also a lot of flexibility in the use of respite-care scholarship funds. Last year, money was awarded to a family to pay for a stairlift because it was the only way the family’s matriarch could stay at home.

Elder Services also offers a Medicare counseling program and provides medical advocates who can accompany older people to medical appointments and communicate with their physicians if a caregiver cannot attend.

“Find the services you need first and worry about payment later,” Hrenko said. “Insurance will pay for some services, and the government will subsidize others.”

Mary Tomaselli has been attending the adult day-care program at the Nevins Adult Day Health Center every day for nearly three years.

“When I leave her here, I know she is being cared for and is loved as well as a non-family member can love her,” Gracemarie said.

Staff at the adult day-care program strictly follow doctors’ orders, engage the elders in appropriate activities, and provide skilled nurses, health aides, and social workers.

“Our goal here is to have fun and provide respite for family members, while giving then the piece of mind that their loved one is being cared for medically,” said Nancy Trick, program director of Nevins Adult Day Health programs.

FOR MORE INFO

Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley can be reached at 800-892-0890. Nevins Adult Day Health Center can be reached at 978-686-2807.

Have a comment about this story? E-mail Jennifer Amy Myers at jmyers@thevalleydispatch.com.