By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
By Errol Castens
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – By 2030 the number of Americans over the age of 65 is expected to double. That means more people facing their family members’ issues of aging – or their own.
On Friday, the University of Mississippi staged its ninth annual Caring for Aging Relatives Effectively Fair and workshop. The event offered several seminars and panel discussions, a national film on end-of-life issues and contact with more than two dozen organizations and businesses that focus on aging.
“People want information on aging,” said Dr. Jo Ann O’Quin, professor of social work and the event’s founder, who has extensive family and professional involvement with the issues of aging. “I’m very empathetic for people who go through end-of-life care, and especially hospice care.”
Lydia Jones, wife of Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones, was the event keynote speaker, with a reflection of her own experience as a caregiver for her mother-in-law, Bea, who is now 94 and living in an assisted-living facility in Oxford. Each provided a lesson to other caregivers, from involving outside experts to help to collecting memories and adjusting expectations. Bea Jones is mostly non-verbal now, her daughter-in-law said, but “what she loves is when we’re all together. She loves to listen to us talk, even though she won’t say a word.”
One audience member told of similar changes in her grandmother, whose family now sends cards instead of calling.
“She wouldn’t remember two minutes later if you called,” the woman said, “but she has a basket of cards, and when we visit, we go through them, and she loves it.”
One of the most illustrative events of the day was the “Virtual Alzheimer’s Tour” that uses props to distort participants’ sight, hearing and touch while asking them to perform poorly understood instructions. The experience mimics day-to-day life for those with Alzheimer’s.
“It’s powerful,” said Brian Simmons, a social worker at North Mississippi Regional Center.
In a panel discussion, four caregivers recounted a variety of their challenges, from long-distance caregiving to sibling disagreements to the conflicting needs of elders and children in the same household.
“I made a decision early on that I wouldn’t sacrifice my little girl for my mother,” said Stephanie Stepteau-Watson. “That decision doesn’t come without guilt.”
Attorney Amanda Glover Evans outlined scores of scams that often target the elderly, from insurance fraud to the notorious “Nigerian letters” offering to share fortunes for “help” in transferring it to the United States.
“A lot of times people are embarrassed that they were scammed, but if they don’t report it, others will continue to be scammed,” Evans said.
Dianne Arnold of the State Department of Mental Health’s Alzheimer’s Division spoke on a myriad of ways to communicate with dementia patients, including using simple instructions and being willing to repeat explanations.
The day ended with a viewing of “Last Rights: Facing End-of-Life Choices,” a film that featured four people with terminal illnesses who made decisions about the circumstances of their own deaths.
Dr. Scott Nelson, a physician from Cleveland, Miss., narrated the film and discussed it after the viewing. His own father, consumed with pain from kidney cancer, had shot himself in 1993.
“The film was really hard to do,” Nelson said. “I don’t think a single person up here wanted to die; they all wanted to continue to have the quality of life they formerly had.
“I grew up as a Methodist in the South, so I lean more toward a conservative approach – alleviating pain and not prolonging life. Dad’s death was swift, and … I don’t know how I would feel if I was in one of these other families.”