HomeHealth'It Takes a Village' is not just for raising kids
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‘It Takes a Village’ is not just for raising kids

(Editor’s Note: This story on caregiving is funded by AARP)

By Mimi Chen

“I’m lucky.”  asserts Jeff Rodriguez. (Note names were changed due to privacy concerns)

Rodriguez, in charge of caring for his elderly dad, claims it’s an advantage to be Filipino when it comes to aging.

He says he’s fortunate to be a part of the Filipino community, not only because of the social aspect but especially when it comes to elder care.  For many, taking care of an elderly parent or relative quickly becomes burdensome and a full-time occupation, with little to no breaks.  But for Rodriguez, an IT specialist who works at Intel, the connection to family and the Filipino community around him gives him the support he needs to ensure that his dad and previously his mother, receive the best care possible.

Elder care for Rodriguez began six years ago when his sister died, and the profound loss affected his mother with a depression that brought on a decline.  At first, his dad was his mother’s main caretaker, but eventually, full-time care became necessary for his mother and his father was unable to provide the care around the clock.  An incident with a “Help I’m Fallen and Can’t Get Up” alarm button they obtained for his mom alerted him that it was time to start watching his dad as well.  Apparently, his mom pressed the button for help but because his dad had forgotten to pay the bill for the alarm system, help was not forthcoming, even though they did receive the call for help.  

Rodriguez’s family is spread out throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, with a brother living in San Jose, a cousin who lives with the father in the Newark area and he himself 25 minutes away, but the distance doesn’t stop all the relatives and family friends from visiting.  His 92-year-old dad apparently is still spry enough to enjoy daily outings to the local church to “hang out with his friends.”  Rodriguez attributes these outings along with all the other social connections as a major contribution to his dad’s longevity and enjoyment of life. 

Multigenerational love in the Filipino community

His dad often enjoys the company of younger acquaintances. His sister’s friends and cousin’s friends will occasionally come out and take his dad out for dinner, says Rodriguez. He thinks it’s because of the acceptance of multigeneration and inclusion of elders within the Filipino community, that everyone doesn’t mind the age differences.

Despite all the friends and relatives, there are many moments when his dad is by himself and along with those moments come the worry.  However, thanks to a suggestion from a college friend, Rodriguez leverages technology to help monitor those moments. With all the Nest cameras mounted throughout the house, says Rodriguez, it “doesn’t seem to bother” his dad.  “He knows but chooses to ignore it.”

Another advantage to being Filipino, added Rodriguez, is that there are so many connections to the medical community.  Not only was his mother a nurse, but his wife is also a nurse. The advantage of wife Susan being a medical professional is that when they go to appointments, she will catch things, he says, often asking, “what about this?” when the doctors are in a hurry to get to the next patient.  

An additional advantage to having the watchful eye of Susan is the extra experience she has having worked in a nursing home, so “she knows the problems with elderly people who are not moving around and she will recommend things, saying, well, you need this so you don’t develop pressure sores or bed sores and what you need do if there are sores.  Thankfully, she used to do treatments like that,”  he added. She also remembers additional minutia, “like how vitamin C is really good to give as it aids in healing.” 

Unfortunately, in the case of his nurse mother, being a medical professional may have been a drawback, according to Rodriguez.  There is an old adage “that doctors and nurses make the worst patients” since they’re used to being the caretaker rather than the other way around and the adage applied to his mother, he noted.

Caregivers tried to take advantage of his parents

When asked what advice he would give to people starting out on elder caretaking, Rodriguez had a few suggestions.  The first on the list?. I’d say make sure that they have strong social connections that’ll help keep them healthy and have things to look forward to.  “My mom was not so social so, you know, she was getting very depressed, but my dad always likes to go out and looks forward to being with other people. Making sure your parents have social connections is good so they’re not isolated.” he stated.

Rodriguez admits life would be quite different were he not part of the Filipino community.  He explained he was able to find trusted caretakers thanks to word of mouth.  However, despite all the good references, he still encountered caretakers who attempted to take advantage of the parents, hence, he warns people to always be vigilant.  “We had problems with caregivers being kind of manipulative, you know, trying to get gifts out of my parents and things like that.”  Rodriguez emphasized, “That’s something you just have to really watch out for because they’re closer to them and you get emotionally attached to people who are taking care of you. We’ve seen them try to use that to their advantage.”  After witnessing one manipulative attempt, Rodriguez was quick to give them their walking papers.

Another piece of advice.  Enlist home health services, to review their living area. “They were really good. We had someone come in and they noticed he had rugs, throw rugs in places and that is a big slip hazard. They also recommended things like putting in a shower seat and handles in the bathroom, because you know, falls are bad news. So those kinds of things we had to do.  We used to hang clothes in places that could fall and trip someone.”

Rodriguez is grateful as life would be dramatically different if he didn’t have all the additional familial support of not only his brother, a cousin, his wife but also his 3 kids.  He says, “ It would have taken up much more work time and personal life time too. Losing that time would have increased the tension within my own family, who help out but also have lives of their own.  Without family, it would have made my parents’ lives worse. Healthy social connections are a key to staying healthy and I think community and extended family helped my parents reach their 90’s and in the case of my 91-year-old Dad, stay healthy enough to keep driving (just got his license renewed).”

Having an understanding boss also is helpful notes Rodriguez, luckily my current job is pretty flexible. So, I can get out without a problem. As long as I get my work done, they don’t care. Not all bosses are like that.”

Oral histories can become a lifelong treasure

Another piece of advice from Rodriguez is to think in terms of recording at least one oral history session while loved ones are still around. He encourages people to look at websites such as StoryCorp.org, where people record and archive interviews of themselves with others to keep for posterity. According to Rodriguez, there is peace of mind that he sat and recorded his parents, particularly his late mother. “I feel happy that I captured some of her life for myself, my family, my children, and I hope, their children. I have done these sessions with my father also, and there is usually some surprising aspect of their history that I had never heard before. It’s comforting to hear her voice again, even after she has passed, especially talking so clearly and lucidly as I have known her for most of my life.” I can truly appreciate all that she went through and sacrificed to make a better life. Finally, there is a sense of relief – I know that I would regret forever not making some kind of lasting record of her life.”

He thinks it was a discovery about them for himself as well. Said , “one additional thing that I learned from their oral history is that they were/are incredibly tough and resilient people. who went through a lot.”

And lastly, Rodriguez notes that the younger generation should pay attention to his last piece of advice.  He thinks everyone needs to obtain long-term care insurance.  If you don’t have extra family to help you, in the long run, having long-term care insurance could be beneficial for you and any other relatives, he notes.  “The government only funds caregiving and nursing homes after you have exhausted all of your assets.  We recently purchased long-term care insurance to deal with those possible costs. Many people don’t know that, and unless you have a lot of assets, caregiving costs can be a very unpleasant surprise.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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