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April 6, 2001
Volume 38, No. 14


UI families with aging parents find help
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UI families with aging parents find help

Dawn Jordan (right), a caseworker with Elder Services, Inc., talks with Marlea O’Brien (left) and her mother, Ilda McGinn, about the care services they’ve organized for Ilda. Photo by Rex Bavousett.

Prescription for Exhaustion: Rise at the crack of dawn to get ready for work. Be on the road before sunrise to dress Mom for the day. Work eight hours (at the office or at home). Be on the road at sunset to ready Mom for bed. Return home, eat dinner, make a little time for family. Lay head on the pillow by midnight. Repeat daily.

Marlea O’Brien has filled that prescription for the past several months. A program associate in speech pathology and audiology, O’Brien is caring for her elderly mother, Ilda McGinn, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1996.

  Jordan and O'Brien help organize Ilda's belongings. Photo by Rex Bavousett.

Statistically, O’Brien isn’t alone. According to the National Family Caregivers Association, more than one quarter (26.6%) of the U.S. adult population has provided care to a chronically ill, aged, or disabled family member or friend during the past year. Based on current census data, that translates into more than 54 million people. Because the adult population in the state of Iowa is older, adults in Iowa may be taking on more care-giving responsibilities.

"In Iowa there are more people over the age of 75 than there are children under the age of five," says Jane Holland, Family Services coordinator at the University. Since she’s been studying the issue, more and more faculty and staff members have contacted her regarding their elder care responsibilities.

"People are committed to their work and want to do it well," she says. "But after conducting some focus groups and completing a survey on dependent care concerns, we found there was a need out there that had to be met."

Holland and representatives from the Family Issues Charter Committee, nursing faculty, and members of the community are completing a written report with recommendations for elder care issues. Today the Family Services Office offers group seminars and elder care resource and referral to faculty, staff, and students. The group sessions began in October, and the University now contracts with Elder Services, Inc., to offer one-on-one sessions with faculty and staff.

Ilda and Marlea take a moment to talk about family. Photo by Rex Bavousett.


"Mom had been living alone when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. To find day care and other services to help keep her in her home, I did all the legwork myself," O’Brien says. "I went to each service organization to gather information, and I had to learn how to compare costs and services offered and what kind of medical reimbursements would be accepted. I was in a stressful situation, and then having to do all this on my own just made it more stressful."

Eventually McGinn was no longer able to live alone, so O’Brien moved her to Atrium Village in Hills, a residential facility for the elderly. But again, O’Brien was noticing how much more assistance her mother needed—and how much time she was taking away from work to care for her.

"She needed a higher level of care, and this time the task of finding information was so much easier," O’Brien says. "It just so happened that I had seen some of the announcements about the new elder care information sessions in flyers from Family Services and notices on the Associated University Women electronic mailing list," O’Brien says.

Help is available

One-on-one elder care sessions will be offered this spring on April 17 and May 15. To arrange an appointment for one of these free hour-long sessions or for information about elder care resources at the University, contact Jane Holland, (33)5-1371, or by e-mail at The Family Services web site at offers helpful links to elder care information and other family-related resources.


In November, O’Brien registered for a one-on-one Elder Services session where she received information on all the care facilities in the area, web sites, checklists to use when visiting care facilities and a list of specific, direct questions to ask while there. She learned that the staff at Elder Services could arrange for home-delivered meals, adult day care, nursing services, companion and respite care, modifications to the home, and shared housing. O’Brien was assigned to a caseworker, Dawn Jordan, an assessment and intervention specialist with Elder Services.

"Dawn called me the very next morning, set up a meeting two days later, and met me at Atrium Village, where we assessed the physical layout of the apartment, mom’s physical abilities, mental abilities, and her finances. Finally, she had the forms necessary for the services we wanted."

So far this year, more than 50 people have attended the group educational seminars, and 35 UI community members have registered for the individual sessions. According to O’Brien, the individualized session was invaluable.

"All of the things I’ve done for my mom originated from that one-hour appointment with Elder Services," she says. "Dawn continues to check in with me to ask how things are going and whether I’m able to keep up. The people at Elder Services understand what you’re going through and recognize your needs. I’m not alone in the whole process."

Article by Lesanne B. Fliehler


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