Eldercare: Lindsay's story

Sue Brightly
Lindsay Ruth (left), and Eileen McCoy Whang.

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter once said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world:  Those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.” 

And yet, despite the fact that most of us will be involved with caregiving in one way or another during our lifetimes, caregiving tends to catch people by surprise. People can easily feel overwhelmed when they become a caregiver, says Eileen McCoy Whang, consultant for work/life in Human Resources. “The answer is to educate yourself and be prepared ahead of time,” she says.

Lindsay Ruth, assistant vice president for major gifts at Alumni Affairs and Development, is benefiting from that kind of proactive approach to caregiving. She started to take action when she realized her mother was having issues with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“When it first became clear that I was going to have to take time off, I talked to our human resources staff and my managers, and learned about family medical leave. As my mom's situation evolved and deteriorated, my travel schedule and workload were challenging for me to balance. At the same time, I realized I was ready for new job opportunities.”

When a position that didn’t require as much travel became available several months later, Lindsay moved into her current job. Still, eldercare needs often change over time, and Lindsay later worked again with human resources to craft a more flexible schedule and reduction from full-time to 60 percent.

While not every job can incorporate flexible arrangements, Lindsay found that “there are often more options than you think.” The crucial thing, she says, is that “it’s really important to reach out to people for assistance.”

Nobody should expect to handle caregiving alone. Lindsay points out that “in addition to changing jobs and working part-time, establishing a team of neighbors, paid helpers, advisors and family is what really makes my mom’s situation workable.” She notes that Cornell’s caregiving workshops also helped her understand the often complicated framework of eldercare services availability and eligibility.

In addition to making efforts to be prepared before a crisis strikes, Eileen and Lindsay offer the following advice for caregivers:

Nurture your sense of humor: Lindsay recalls going to a stress reduction workshop where the instructor said, “If you're gonna laugh about this later, why wait?” She carries around a little trio of plastic pigs, gifts from colleagues that remind her of a funny story about her mom. “Humor,” she says, “does help get you through those days.”

  • Be kind to yourself: You’re going to make mistakes – you’re only human! Remember to take time to care for yourself, even if it’s in ten-minute doses. Think of the airplane analogy of putting on your oxygen mask before helping someone else: you’ll be a more effective caregiver if you’re not struggling yourself.
  • Prioritize: Not everything has to be done at once. Safety and health are always top priorities; for everything else, Eileen recommends making a list. “Take baby steps. Take one thing at a time, one day at a time. And then do something for yourself.”
  • You’re not alone: Reach out for help. Caregivers often feel isolated; networking can help ease the burdens of responsibility and stress. “A good first step is to give me a call or email,” says Eileen. “Oftentimes, just talking can help.”

Cornell resources

Most employees are unaware of the extensive caregiving resources available through Cornell, which include the Cornell Caregiver Support & Education Network, the Elder Care/Caregiver E-Newsletter and e-list, and elder care workshops.

  • Dependent care consultant: free, confidential consultations covering where to start, what you should be thinking about, finding the support you need; local and long-distance resources.  Contact Eileen McCoy Whang to set up a time to meet.
  • Family Medical Leave: unpaid time away to support caregiving, either on an occasional or longer-term basis.
  • Flexible work arrangements: Consult with an expert who will help you determine if a flexible work arrangement would work for you and your individual situation.
  • Elder Care/Caregiver E-Newsletter and e-list (type “join” in the subject line to subscribe): Monthly news of relevant on- and off-campus programs, articles, support groups and more. Network with other members of the Cornell community to share information, resources and support.
  • Elder care workshops: On-campus programs that address topics such as legal and financial issues, in-home and long term care, Alzheimer’s and dementia, caregiving and more.
  • Cornell Caregiver Support & Education Network: Meetings for Cornell community members who are providing care for an adult family member, spouse, or friend either locally or long distance.
  • Wellness: Fitness and wellbeing opportunities for caregivers, spouses, partners, and family members including classes for healthy aging
  • Finances: Long term care insurance; Dependent care reimbursement account
  • Family Helper List: Cornell students, staff, retirees and external community members available for elder companionship, running errands, yard work, housekeeping and other help.
  • Project Generations: Student organization in collaboration with the Office for the Aging pairing students with elders in the community for companionship.
  • Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP): Free and confidential guidance and support for benefits-eligible employees and their partners.
  • Local support opportunities: Ithaca and Tompkins County offer numerous support groups for caregivers, including regular meetings dedicated to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, stroke recovery, depression, visual support, hard of hearing, cancer and more.