By Jamie Saunders
Many people in their 20’s are focused on their careers and possibly building families. Most are not thinking that at any minute they could become a caregiver for a parent or grandparent, but it is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society. According to the AARP, of the 40 million caregivers in the United States, one-fourth of them are millennials. Many of them are spending an average of 21 hours per week taking care of a loved one.
This category of millennials is commonly referred to as the sandwich generation. They are stuck between caring for their elders and their own families. It is a highly stressful situation that is extremely hard to plan for, and can often have long-term unintended consequences. It takes a toll on performance at work, relationships, and self-care. Many find themselves like, Wendy Beatty, torn between two lives.
At 21 years old, Wendy Beatty never imagined becoming a full time caregiver for her grandmother, Geraldine Creech. After divorce, she moved into Geraldine’s home in Thomasville, GA. It wasn’t long before Beatty began to notice something wasn’t right, especially later in the day.
A longtime member of Eastside Baptist Church, Creech was known to be kind to family, friends, and strangers. Family was the most important thing to her. She and her four sisters all settled in South Georgia and made sure to stay in contact regularly.
When Creech began acting out of character, others chalked it up to aging. Beatty felt it was more than that. Creech began burning dinner and getting angry, turning up the air conditioner to 80 degrees in the summer, getting her meds mixed up, and destroying the remote to the television. One afternoon, on a routine trip to the grocery store just 2-3 miles from her house, everything changed.
“Although she was confused “sometimes” she was still driving and would go and get her hair done on Fridays like many ladies in South Ga. It didn’t really seem like a big deal for her to be driving around her small town. Until she t-boned a family and severely broke her ankle. Everything changed that day,” says Beatty.
From that day forward, Beatty became her grandmother’s full-time caregiver. By that time, Beatty was 23 years old with a boyfriend and a full-time job. She had to find the time for bathing, dressing, cooking, medicinal management, laundry, household chores, and keeping her grandmother presentable with hair and make up. There were many sleepless nights and scary falls before something had to change.
Says Beatty, “At age 23, I was exhausted! I can’t imagine what it would be like later in life with a spouse as many people experience this. I started to become isolated, I tried to break up with my boyfriend, and I didn’t want to go out with my friends. No one really understood what it was like. Don’t get me wrong I would not take this chapter of my life back for anything in the world but… it was HARD.”
Beatty eventually hired a caregiver and then inevitably moved her into Camellia Gardens nursing home. “There was no question that she was going to Camellia Gardens. My grandmama went back to school in her early 40’s and became a nurse. She worked at Southwestern State Hospitals Rose Haven unit until she retired in 1996. Even after retirement, she worked as needed at Hospitality Care (now Thomasville City Health and Rehab) and Camellia Gardens,” explains Beatty.
“When dementia began to rob her of her memory, she decided that’s where she wanted to move. I think that due to her work there, she knew what was happening to her better than our family. We honored her request. My mama, Wanda Crew was dedicated in visiting her daily and making sure that all of her needs were met. My sister, Amanda McRae was always available when needed. My grandmother loved us all dearly and we her,” Beatty continues.
“She lived at Camilla Gardens for 6 years until her passing. During my visits, I observed and learned a lot about dementia and seniors in general. I gained many new grandparents, it lead me to my career path, and to new volunteer opportunities,” comments Beatty. Beatty is now a Community Education Coordinator at Archbold Northside Center for Behavioral and Psychiatric Care, for Signet Healthcare. She volunteers often as a community educator and speaks to Senior Centers, assisted livings, nursing homes, and any other organization where she can advocate for Alzheimer’s awareness.
But her passion is participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, representing “Team Thomasville”, in the Thomasville, GA walk location. Here she can both honor her grandmother’s memory and raise awareness for the disease. “I want to continue to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s in our community. On the day of the walk, I love to see people come together and share their stories. The relationships and connections are beautiful to watch form,” says Beatty.
Finishes Beatty, “It’s really important that people know about the resources available to them through the Alzheimer’s Association. I wish that I had known about the association when caring for my grandmother, especially the support groups. That would have been so helpful to me.”
Don’t struggle alone. The Alzheimer’s Association leads the way toward ending Alzheimer’s and all other dementia. Our 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900) is available around the clock, 365 days a year. Through this free service, specialists and master’s level clinicians offer confidential support and information to people living with the disease, caregivers, families and the public.
Want to learn more about participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s near you? Families facing Alzheimer’s and all other dementia need us now more than ever — and with your help, we can be there for them. Every dollar you raise through Walk to End Alzheimer’s allows the Alzheimer’s Association to provide 24/7 care and support while accelerating critical research. Register today to help those in your community and beyond.
We salute the health care professionals and long-term care staff who are dedicating themselves to tirelessly serve the Alzheimer’s community. You are making a difference, and we stand with you in this fight. Join us.