CEDAR RAPIDS — After Shanna Cooper’s mother Susan “Suki” Morrissey was diagnosed with dementia, Cooper didn’t question stepping into a family caregiver role.
“She’s my mother,” she said. “It’s what you do.”
The only question was how Cooper was going to manage her mother’s needs, work as a nurse at MercyCare Marion, take care of her four kids and spend time with her husband, who works opposite hours from her.
Cooper connected with Home Instead Senior Care, 373 Collins Rd. NE, and found caregivers to help and spend time with her mother. Cooper said she’s lucky to have the “village” she surrounds herself with to accomplish everything.
Home Instead surprised Cooper with their Family Caregiver of the Month award two weeks ago to recognize her for the work she does in caring for her mother along with all of her other responsibilities.
Karen Huber, franchise owner of Home Instead Senior Care, said the business provides companionship services and non-medical home health care for people in Linn and Benton counties. They have 85 caregivers and spend time ensuring people are matched with the best caregivers for their needs and lifestyle, she said.
Home Instead began the Family Caregiver award earlier this year to recognize how much people like Cooper do, Huber said. In a Home Instead 2019 survey, she said, 86 percent of family caregivers said caregiving puts a strain on their life balance.
“Lots of times, family caregivers don’t get thanked,” she said. “Some can’t thank family caregivers like Suki can.”
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The Home Instead survey also found professional and personal challenges for family caregivers, with 63 percent saying being a family caregiver has made it more difficult to care for themselves and 26 percent of working caregivers saying they were warned by their boss that their caregiving is jeopardizing their job.
Cooper, however, said she doesn’t feel she needs an award for helping her mother, believing anybody would step up to take care of their parents if need be.
Huber also noted people are able to get to know their parents in new ways after becoming a caregiver; the Home Instead survey found 77 percent of respondents reported feeling closer to their parents or in-laws after becoming a caregiver.
She’s had to learn to ask for help balancing her life, she said, and Home Instead caregivers have taken a weight off her shoulders by helping do things for Morrissey like getting groceries, taking her dog Brody to the groomers and driving her to appointments. Now, Morrissey is able to still live independently in her home like she wishes, Cooper said.
Cooper does come to her mother’s home two or three days a week to keep Morrissey’s calendar updated and brings a medicine wheel every other week, but she mostly is able to spend meaningful time with her mother, from getting pedicures or going out to lunch.
“Taking time away from my family is hard, because it’s so large. The time I spend here, we’re making memories,” she said.
Home Instead caregivers allow Cooper a “priceless peace of mind” knowing someone is always with her mother. Caregivers even sat with Morrissey when she was hospitalized a few months ago when Cooper needed to be at work or with her children.
Morrissey refers to the caregivers from Home Instead as her “playtime girls,” saying she thinks of them as good friends.
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“It’s nice that I have family here with me,” she said. “Those without (family close by) would appreciate (Home Instead caregivers).”
Morrissey said she’s “not less aware, I just don’t remember the little things” since being diagnosed with dementia. Things like ballet moves and French words that have been ingrained in her mind are a snap to recall, she said.
Cooper said they aren’t sure how Morrissey’s dementia will progress, but there will come a day when Morrissey doesn’t recognize her face. However, Morrisey looked at her daughter and firmly said that will never happen.
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