My mother, Margarita Santiago, has a heart of gold. When she was raising me and my two brothers, she worked with seniors—cleaning, cooking, and helping them with their grocery shopping. She was such a good cook that they were always trying to get her to do more, to try new things. When a woman in our building had breast cancer, my mother fed and bathed her. If someone was sick, she took care of them. She was the nurse without the credential, the one our neighbors turned to for help.
So it’s ironic that, seven years ago when Mom began to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, she was living alone in an apartment in New York City with no one to take care of her. My brothers tried, but after less than a year they were worn out and discouraged. Mom lost a lot of weight. She became more confused, withdrawn, and uncooperative. When my brother told me that his marriage was in serious trouble and he could no longer look after our mother, I made the decision to bring her to live with me in California.
I own a business that requires I work a lot of hours, often in the evenings and on weekends. Still, I managed to give Mom the care she needed. I cooked the food she likes, spent as much time as I could with her, took her to her appointments, and saw to all of her personal needs, 24 hours a day. As her health improved, my own declined. She got stronger physically and mentally, but I lost weight and was increasingly exhausted. My friends were concerned. Finally, I had to admit that, in order to take care of my mother, I had to take care of myself. I needed help.
Mom now attends Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay’s (ASEB) Adult Day Health Care center in Berkeley five days a week. In the morning she is greeted by the staff, who know and care about her. She enjoys the healthy food they prepare. It reassures me to know that while I’m at work she will be safe, that she will have company and mental stimulation, and that she will be in surroundings that are familiar to her. She is always happy to see me in the evening, when we can eat together and enjoy each other’s company.
ASEB has been my lifeline. Without it, I would have to put Mom in a fulltime home. I would not be able to wake her in the morning or hold her hand for a few moments when I put her to bed at night. I would not be able to do all the special things that only a loved one can do. I would spend every moment worrying about her, afraid that she was lonely, frightened, unhappy, or in pain. I would not see the sparkle in her eye that tells me she knows she is loved, that she is safe, that I will take care of her.
My mother and I are fortunate, but two adult day health centers closed in Alameda County as a result of budget cuts and policy changes, and not everyone in Alameda County who needs it can get help. I wish all families had access to competent and compassionate care for their aging parents.