PBS Releases “Caring for Mom and Dad” Documentary

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Chris Olson was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and her husband, Brent, has prostate cancer.  They lived alone, 300 miles away from their nearest daughter, and needed assistance. Their daughter, Breanna, who was beginning a promising political career, and her sister Shanna, a working mother of two, decided to put their careers on hold and move back home to take care of their parents. According to Shanna, “I didn’t realize at my age—mid 30s—that I would be caring for my mom. I knew that at some point in time that would be necessary; however not when I was just beginning to have a family of my own.”

In another instance, at 100 years of age, Janet Wolfe lives alone at home in her New York City apartment. The former actress has until recently been very independent. When she took a fall at age 97, she resisted help from her two daughters, one of whom lives with her own family in the building. Now, her daughter, Alisa, and her sister who lives in the same building as her mother, rely on geriatric care managers to mediate the situation between her and her mother to relieve some of the stresses of caregiving. According to Alisa, “I don’t take care of her on my own. My sister and I have brought in aides to do mom’s day-to-day care, but we all work as a team. For example, my sister—who lives across the hall from Mom—will heat up and serve Mom the dinner that has been prepared by one of the aides. Or my nephews will come by and watch TV with her.”

Americans are living longer than ever before, and soon older adults will outnumber the young. Most of us will be touched by caregiving in some way at some point in our lives — as a caregiver, as a care recipient, or as someone who is supporting a caregiver. The new documentary, Caring for Mom and Dad, which airs on PBS stations around the country this month,  explores the emotional, health and financial challenges that many caregivers, including those in our examples above, face every day.

The film (check local listings or watch online at is narrated by actress Meryl Streep and highlights several adult children’s experiences as they work and care for parents who are dealing with strokes, dementia, and other health challenges as they age. The film illustrates the rewarding, yet often challenging, road that all family caregivers travel.

Lessons learned from the film include:

You can’t always say yes: Alisa, one of the daughters in our example above, shares her angst in the film, as her mother frequently asks her to come visit, have dinner, and spend the night. She has work and her children pulling her in other directions. She is coming to realize that saying “no” is okay once in a while, and that it is also okay to ask for help and seek respite when needed.

There may be workplace options that support caregivers: The documentary also touches on the challenges of maintaining a job while caring for a loved one — and the financial sacrifices, as well. In fact, professionals over age 50 who leave the workplace to care for a parent stand to lose an average of more than $300,000 in wages and benefits over their lifetime. The film highlights several employees and employers who have benefited from workplace options that support family caregivers.

There are also moments of intense joy that are part of the caregiving experience. The film communicates that those moments are what keep most of us going. In the film, a daughter caring for her mother with dementia expressed that, “It’s those treasured times that outweigh those challenging moments. There is a rainbow where that storm and that peace collide. It produces such a beautiful thing.”

More options for caregivers are needed: The film stresses that we must have more options for affordable services to supplement the unpaid work of family caregivers who shoulder the vast majority of the care. Equally as important are the critical caregiver supports — such as the geriatric care managers, medical advocates, family caregiver intervention programs and flexible workplace policies shown in the film — that are vital to helping us navigate family conflicts and continue to work as we care for our loved ones.

Local Programs and Community Resources for Caregivers

How do we take care of the caregiver who has little support? The following are local programs and community resources that offer family caregivers support, respite, coping strategies, and introductions to other caregivers.

Fairfax County Elder Care

In Fairfax County, caregiver respite service provides an opportunity for family caregivers to take a well-deserved break. They can run errands, work out at the gym, have coffee with a friend or take in a movie, knowing that their loved one is safe.

Help from a Certified Nursing Assistant: Fairfax County provides up to 6 hours of care per week from a certified nursing assistant to relieve a full-time family caregiver. There are income and functional requirements.

Help from a Volunteer: The county also provides up to 6 hours a month from a trained volunteer. The volunteer provides oversight and companionship. This service is free and there is no income requirement.

Adult Day Health Care Center: Using adult day services (ADS) just twice a week can reap surprising psychological and physical benefits for family caregivers. Fairfax County operates five centers that offer medical oversight, recreation and companionship to participants needing supervision during the day. Participants can attend 2-5 days a week.

Fredericksburg, VA Elder Care

The Fredericksburg, VA area has at least 29 Adult Day Care Centers that offer meaningful activities, new friendships, and peace of mind for caregivers and seniors.

Rockville, MD Elder Care

In Rockville, MD, Respite Services of Montgomery County allows family members and other unpaid, live-in caregivers to take a break from their regular chores and routines, so they can take care of their own needs, meet the needs of their family, or simply enjoy a few hours “off-duty.” Montgomery County also has some helpful resources on their county Website.

Washington, DC Elder Care

In Washington, DC, the DC Office on Aging offers caregiver respite programs, and resources for “beating the caregiver blues.” Learn more here.

Fairfax, Virginia Caregiver Support

Fairfax County provides support for the physical and emotional challenges involved with caregiving. Support groups – whether by phone or in person – can help build relationship and remove barriers to health and well-being.

Caregiver Support Groups in the Annandale, McLean and Mt. Vernon areas are led by nurses and take place at three of the county’s Adult Day Health Care Centers. You do not need a family member enrolled in one of the centers to join.

A Caregiver Telephone Support Group is available from the comfort of your own home. Caregivers can join a free support group facilitated by a county social worker each month on second Tuesdays. Register online or call 703-324-5484, TTY 711.

Fredericksburg, Virginia Caregiver Support

In Spotsylvania County, a Caregiver Support Group meets on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays in Fredericksburg.

Rockville, MD Caregiver Support

In Rockville, MD, the Montgomery County “Senior Site” provides various resources on Caregiver Support, including safety, social support, and more.

Washington, DC Caregiver Support

In Washington, DC, through the DC Caregivers Institute and family caregiver program, Home Care Partners supports and educates family members to ease some of the stresses of caregiving while providing the concrete services they need to continue caring for their relatives at home. Caregivers must be DC residents caring for a DC Senior (60 years and older). Support includes in-home hands-on practical skills and tips for managing health problems, telephone support groups, seminars on practical topics, and more.

National Caregiver Support

Nationally, The Caregiver Community Action Network (CCAN) is a group of over 100 volunteers in more than 40 states. CCAN volunteers reach out to family caregivers to provide education and support. They also teach caregivers to be advocates for themselves and their loved ones. The U.S. Administration on Aging also offers a comprehensive listing of caregiving resources. In addition, the Family Caregiver Alliance offers a calendar of events and trainings for caregivers.

Caregiving can be both emotionally and mentally taxing, and can easily lead to caregiver burnout. Please encourage your family caregivers to take advantage of services that offer respite and support, and thank them for their strength, courage and commitment in providing long-term patient care.

At the Farr Law Firm, we recognize that caring for a loved one strains even the most resilient people. If you’re a caregiver, take steps to preserve your own health and well-being.  Part of taking care of yourself is planning for your future and for the future needs of your loved ones.

If you’re a caregiver or a loved one who has not done incapacity planning, estate planning, or long-term care planning (or needs to update your documents), please contact Farr Law Firm, P.C. as soon as possible to make an appointment for a consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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