Intergenerational Living

Intergenerational Living

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Family and Global Perspectives

Kevin Kawamoto
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Hawai‘i is known for its large number of multigenerational households and for the importance that its diverse cultures place on family relationships and activities. There are two very different, but related activities coming up that may be of interest to Herald readers — one happening in the real world and the other online.

The first is the Family Resource Fair, which will be held Friday, July 24, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. The fair will feature vendors and exhibitors, entertainment, a keiki-kupuna look-alike contest, a Honolulu Theatre for Youth reading of Lee Cataluna’s new intergenerational plays and more.

The Family Resource Fair is the closing event of a four-day (July 21-24) conference exploring new research and practices in the field of intergenerational living. The conference, which will be held at the Hawai‘i Convention Center, will bring together participants from 10 nations, all discussing the subject of “Intergenerational Action on a Global Scale.” This is the first time the conference is being held outside of Washington, D.C. Conference attendees must register and pay a fee for the conference. However, the Family Resource Fair is open free of charge to the public. For more information, contact Audrey Suga-Nakagawa at audsn@hawaii.rr.com or Mae Mendelson at maeonam@yahoo.com, or visit the conference website for more details: http://guconference.wordpress.com.

The other activity involves the sharing of stories.
Stories are a means by which people communicate with each other and make sense of their lives. As part of a national project called, “I Heart Caregivers,” AARP Hawaii is asking local caregivers to share their stories of what it means to be a caregiver with an online audience. The goal is to add Hawai‘i voices to the national organization’s website.

Bruce Bottorff, AARP Hawaii’s director of communications, explained that the project is a way of recognizing family caregivers — a “silent army” of loved ones and family members who are often on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so that an older adult can age-in-place at home.

The stories can be told from the perspective of the caregiver or the care recipient. People who like to write and have access to the internet can help post the stories for the caregiver or the care recipient, with their permission. The national website features stories from all over the United States. The Hawai‘i section features stories posted by people of various ages and from all walks of life. As of this writing, there are 26 stories in the Hawai‘i section. Many of them are fascinating and compelling, such as the following, told by Ken and Deidre.

Ken (only the first names are normally used) wrote about retiring to take care of his wife, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As it turns out, she was misdiagnosed and actually had another medical condition, which was helped through surgery. His wife’s condition improved after the surgery and she was making good progress until she suffered a major setback. She fell off of a chair and hit her head on the floor.

Ken’s story on the “I Heart Caregivers” website explains what happened next. “Her dog Coco came running into the kitchen and nudged me with his nose,” Ken wrote. “I realized something must have happened. Coco took off down the hallway and sat next to her till I got help for her.”

He said the road to recovery has been long and frustrating, but he does offer some words of advice to other caregivers: “Provide the best quality of life for your loved one, keep them safe, never stop learning to improve your care giving skills and take care of yourself.”

Here is another story from the website. Deidre described herself as a 23-year-old University of Hawai‘i student and a Project Dana intern. Deidre helped care for her dad and said that she and her mother were not aware of the resources that could have helped them during that time. On the “I Heart Caregivers” website, Deidre described what it was like to be a full-time student and a caregiver.

“My mom was working full-time and I was attending school full-time, but we were able to provide care to my dad in between,” she wrote. “I felt like I cared for him 24/7 because he was always on my mind. He used to be a strong, independent man who loved all of his responsibilities. Even while he was bedridden, he would still offer to help around the house. It was difficult for him and for us.”

Deidre’s father needed considerable medical support at home after he was discharged from the hospital. It was physically and emotionally difficult for the family, even though Deidre’s mom was a nurse. Deidre wrote that she felt sad seeing her father in that condition. The family did not qualify for government support, and they worried about their financial situation due to Deidre’s mom’s decision to take time off from work to care for her husband. Despite the difficulties, Deidre (who plans to get her master’s degree in nursing) remembers some special moments.

“It wasn’t all bad,” she wrote. “When he said, ‘Darling, thank you so much,’ I knew that I was doing something right. I was so thankful for the time that I had to care for him. Caregiving may be difficult but always remember why you’re doing it.’”

Past and current care-givers will find many of the stories on this website familiar and may nod in recognition of similar experiences. Future caregivers will gain a better insight into what is involved with family caregiving. Most of the stories are written straight from the heart and are a beautiful testament to the love and dedication of caregivers without glossing over the difficult aspects of caregiving. You can read the stories for yourself, and contribute your own if you feel so inclined (or ask someone to help you) at www.aarp.org/iheartcaregivers.

Hawai‘i is estimated to have 247,000 caregivers whose help enables their loved ones to live at home. As the “I Heart Caregivers” website suggests, they all have stories to tell, linking them to a national and global network of human beings caring for other human beings in our rapidly aging communities.

Kevin Kawamoto is a longtime contributor to The Hawai‘i Herald. He added his story to the “I Heart Caregivers” website.

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