Could the experience of aging and long-term illness be less traumatic?
It’s a question that Lisa Titus has often pondered. For the last twelve years, Lisa has been working as an elder care coordinator at the Elder Law Practice of Dennison Keller, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Cincinnati, Ohio. She now helps the firm’s many clients answer this question.
It first occurred to Lisa when she was in college. Both of her grandparents had health issues and Lisa helped care for them both. As her grandfather’s dementia progressed, his behavior changed in ways that she found startling. “Grandpa was a good, old southern Baptist deacon,” Lisa remembers. “As he became more demented, his language changed. Everything changed.”
Lisa remembers one situation vividly. “I was with him in the hospital,” she remembers. “I was leaning on his hospital bed and I happened to touch his arm. His response was dramatic. He yelled, ‘You’re killing me!’”
Those would be his last words to Lisa. “I loved and adored my grandfather,” she recalls. “To have this be his last verbal expression to me was heart breaking, but it made me start thinking about how people with dementia respond to things. I wondered what could be done to make the journey less difficult.”
Lisa had the opportunity to ask the question again as her then-19-year-old sister battled—and succumbed to—leukemia. “It was devastating to the family,” she remembers. “It made wonder what kinds of interventions might lessen the trauma.”
Then, in 2011, Lisa’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “The whole family rallied around her care, including my Dad, who is still living and will be 94 this year,” Lisa explains. “Thankfully, we were able to keep her at home. I was able to use my experience to help reduce some of the drama and trauma for them both.”
But that didn’t come without a struggle. Lisa’s parents were initially resistant to help. “The world listens to us, but our own family does not,” Lisa laughs. “I do this kind of work every day, but my own parents waited until the eleventh hour to allow us to have any homecare come in, and then it was only three hours a day. And whenever there was an emergency, like Mom falling, Dad wouldn’t call the homecare office or the EMTs, he would call me. Thankfully, I was a mile away and had a forgiving boss who said, ‘Go pick her up off the floor and get back as soon as you can.’"
Lisa is one of the many employees at Life Care Planning Law Firms whose personal journeys mirrors their professional life. Her personal experiences have yielded valuable insights, especially when it comes to making things better for her clients. “Every family situation is different,” she notes. “Every family tradition, every collection of personalities, every family response to change is different. Acknowledging those differences is vital. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits all Life Care Plan.”
Her most important advice to clients comes directly from her own experience. “It’s what they tell you when you get on a plane,” Lisa adds. “Put on your own oxygen mask first before you help someone else with theirs. That’s excellent self-care advice. If you don’t take care of yourself first, you’ll have nothing left to give to the person who needs you. People tend to forget that.”