Brothers Redevelopment Co-Founder Don Schierling Testifies in D.C.
Assisting Caregivers Today Caucus launched
Brothers Redevelopment co-founder Don Schierling, 80, testified in Washington, D.C., on March 3 before a meeting with members of Congress and more than 20 national organizations.
The occasion was the launch of the Assisting Caregivers Today (ACT) Caucus. Objectives of the caucus are to bring greater attention to family care giving and helping people live independently, to inform Congress of these issues and engage them in a bipartisan effort to help lead to solutions.
“About two years ago Elvira got lost coming home from church, a route she had taken many times before. Since then it’s been a complete life change,” he said.
“I began speaking to neighbors, friends, and others who had and were having the same experience. What is dementia? How will this change the behavior of my wife and me? Will being Elvira’s caregiver change my role as husband and father? Where do I get help?”
His full testimony to the caucus is below.
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet is a co-chairman of the new caucus. Bennet and Schierling met during the meeting in D.C.
Schierling has been actively involved in “assisting caregivers” for more than 40 years, including as a founder of Denver-based Brothers Redevelopment housing nonprofit in 1971, as an ongoing member of the Brothers Board of Directors, and now as a caregiver to his wife.
The nonprofit Schierling co-founded with three others in 1971 has always been focused on providing safe, affordable and accessible housing and housing services for Colorado’s low-income seniors and people with disabilities — to help individuals age in place in the comfort of their own homes for as long as possible.
According to an AARP report distributed at the caucus, “family caregivers provide more than 90 percent of the care that enables people with disabilities to avoid living in nursing homes of other institutional settings. With the aging of the boomers, there will be greater care-giving burdens on fewer family members.”
The report notes that “complex care giving is the new normal. It is conventional wisdom that you either are a caregiver, have been a caregiver, will be a caregiver or will need care yourself.”
Schierling is a retired teacher, community organizer, and banker, and still teaches online classes. He has been caretaker for his wife, Elvira, for two years — since she developed dementia. She can no longer drive, handle personal finance or other everyday responsibilities, or be alone for more than an hour. In D.C., he discussed the challenges he faces in the shifting nature of his relationship with his wife and the transition of taking on the responsibility of caregiver.
Read his full testimony to the Assisting Caregivers Today Caucus below.
Hello, my name is Don Schierling from Denver, Colorado. I’m 80 years and old and retired, but I still teach online classes at a local university. And I am a caregiver.
My wife, Elvira, and I have lived together for 50 years. We both had great health and lived a life where we took care of ourselves and each other. We vacationed, invited friends for an evening meal, and kept each other in touch with our neighborhood, school events and church activities.
We used to be quite independent completing our specific roles as husband and wife, mother and father, neighbors and maintaining personal and family friends. This has now changed.
My role as Elvira’s caregiver began nearly 2 years ago. My daughters and I began to notice some changes in her behavior. She got lost coming home from church. She began to forget various responsibilities. She began to forget which day of the week it was, and couldn’t remember our friends’ names.
Finally, she must have fallen and not remembered it, since she developed pain in her legs and began to walk very gingerly. Soon we discovered she had broken her pelvis. In conjunction with this, she lost greater capability to remember and became more dependent, without believing this was the case. We discovered she had dementia. I did not know what that was and how this would change our relationship.
I discovered it’s a disease. Some days she will ask me 4 or 5 times what day of the week it is, but each time I answer like it’s the first time. My role as husband was to change. Elvira gave up driving and can’t be left alone for more than a short time. I do everything around the house, manage our finances, and manage medications.
We made changes to our home to keep her safe, adding in a gate so she can’t fall down the stairs, and more.
This was difficult for me. I began speaking to neighbors, friends, and others who had and were having the same experience. What is dementia? How will this change the behavior of my wife and me? Will being Elvira’s caregiver change my role as husband and father? Where do I get help?
I had been a fairly independent person. At 80 years old, I still was and am involved with non-profit activities and responsibilities. I had friends who kept my professional and social interests alive.
Now, the greater responsibility focuses around the home, my wife and my new identity as Caregiver.
I love Elvira very much, and I want to take care of her so she can stay in our home. Still, being a caregiver is challenging, and while I will continue to be there for my wife, in sickness and in health, I could use a little help. Even if it’s just to take a break for a few hours, so I can get out of the house and recharge.