For caregivers, relief is always in sight

By: Julie Snyder | C&G Newspapers | Published October 17, 2012

 Kathy Wales of Sterling Heights combs the hair of her husband, Don. She has been taking care of him for the past 17 years, after an aneurysm, followed by a fall, left him unable to properly care for himself.

Kathy Wales of Sterling Heights combs the hair of her husband, Don. She has been taking care of him for the past 17 years, after an aneurysm, followed by a fall, left him unable to properly care for himself.

Photo by David Schreiber

Kathy Wales met her husband in 1953 while walking to a dentist appointment with a friend.

The two girls were heading down Washington Avenue in Royal Oak when two young men pulled up in a ’53 Chevy and asked what they were up to and if they needed a ride.

“We said ‘no’ and continued to walk with our noses up in the air,” recalls Kathy, who was 16 at the time and attending Royal Oak High School.

The boys, one of whom was Don Wales, a 16-year-old student at nearby Ferndale High School, didn’t give up; unbeknownst to the girls, the boys followed them to Kathy’s dentist’s office.

After Kathy returned to the waiting room, she found her friend engaged in conversation with the two teens. She told Kathy how nice and interesting they were.

“Back in 1953, I guess you weren’t worried too much,” said Kathy, referring to eventually hitching a ride home with the boys. “We were married three years later.”

Since taking their vows at First United Methodist Church in Ferndale, where they still attend weekly services, the couple has made many happy memories, from the birth of their three daughters to the arrival of their first grandchild, but recent years have posed challenges for the two.

In 1995, Don Wales suffered a bleeding aneurysm that nearly killed him. His recovery was long. He had to learn to speak again, and his vision never fully recovered.

“The aneurysm damaged his optic nerve. The doctors said he would be blind,” said Kathy, who also had to teach her husband how to feed himself, dress and use the restroom. “But 22 days later, he could see, though he has no peripheral vision.”

And just when it seemed things were getting back to normal for the Wales family, Don had another setback when, in 2007 at the age of 70, he had a bad fall and broke several bones, including his femur, which punctured his pelvis.

“This time the doctors said he would never walk again,” said Kathy.

But after more than a year in rehabilitation, Don could walk again, though today he most often uses a walker or a wheelchair to get around quicker, or he leans on his wife’s arm for support.

“That’s not good for me,” said Kathy, who’s now 75. “Someone who’s 170 pounds pulling on your arm all day … that’s not good for anyone.”

Because taking care of Don, who also has Parkinson’s disease and aphasia, is a 24-hour-a-day job, Kathy seeks help from the Area Agency on Aging 1-B in Southfield. Through the agency, she has been connected with out-of-home respite programs around the area.

For 10 days to two weeks at a time, Kathy is able to leave Don in the care of skilled professionals at places like Riverbend Assisted Living in East China. The respite service allows her to take time off to visit one of her daughters in Grand Rapids or to take a trip with another daughter down to Florida to prepare their trailer for their upcoming winter stay. Even in Florida, Kathy is set up with an adult day-care program for those needed breaks.

“He loves going there,” said Kathy of Riverbend. “He thinks all the girls there are his girlfriends and they are all there only for him.”

She said Don also enjoys spending time and speaking with some of the other part-time residents of Riverbend. She said Don is able to speak, though sometimes what he says isn’t clear. He also is unable to recall a lot of conversations.

As at other out-of-home respite services, Don receives all the care he’s given by Kathy, including grooming, dressing, feeding and company, and he has his own room with a TV, living room area and bedroom.

Sallie Justice, communications manager for AAA 1-B, said these services are not for those in need of medical care.

Adult day care is a type of respite service provided in a facility in the community. It offers activities and assistance for people with physical or mental impairments and often specializes in caring for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The service provides relief to caregivers and is for people who do not need full-time care but cannot be left alone for long periods of time. Hours vary but are generally 7 a.m.-7 p.m. with some centers providing Saturday service, Justice said.

There are also in-home respite services, where caregivers can hire someone to come to their home and provide care for a couple of hours during the day so they can take a break, go to lunch with a friend, shop, or run some errands.

Then there’s Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers, which trains and screens volunteers to provide supervision to older adults to give their caregivers a break.

Justice said costs vary based on need, and her organization provides insurance assistance and will work with those on a tight budget.

“It’s a big step for caregivers, but it’s so important for them to reach out and use those services,” said Justice, adding that AAA 1-B receives between 60,000 and 70,000 calls for assistance each year. “If you’re doing it 24 hours a day, you need to get a break.”

Kathy, who lives in Sterling Heights with her husband, said the out-of-home respite service is much better than the alternative.

“I don’t want to put him in a nursing home,” she said. “I want him to stay home, and he wants to stay home. He still visits with his grandchildren, and they talk and they play card games. It’s good for him to have those relationships.”

No matter his condition, Don remains the love of Kathy’s life.

“Don has always been a really good guy,” she said. “He’s still a good partner; he’s still fun to talk to.”

For more information about the Area Agency on Aging 1-B, call (800) 852-7795. Learn more about the Out-of-Home Respite Program at ices/out-of-home-care/.