We get all kinds of calls, everything from someone who wants to schedule
an appointment with their dietitian to a caregiver whose parent has just had a stroke and their world has just flipped upside down. We probably get 30 to 40 calls a day, and it’s a nice change moving from person to person, story to story. With the helpline, I often get to see the direct impact of my work right then and there. I can hear the hope come back in their voice.
I can hear them sounding calmer. We come up with direct action plans. Even though the caller may be facing a long haul, at least I was able to start them in the right direction.
We’ve seen a huge increase in calls from people in financial trouble. We’re getting calls from people who were middle-class, are educated and who have lost their jobs. We get a lot of calls from people with children in college and don’t want to admit to them that they’re in trouble. They really have no idea how to access social services because they’ve never had to. Their pride is definitely part of the equation in how I respond. We have to do a lot of educating that they’re not alone.
You really have to see yourself in the position of the person calling. You can’t see yourself as above or beyond this person. But in a weird way, you can’t be too compassionate because you can lose a sense of boundaries. You’re a helper, not a savior. You’re there to empower the person to keep going, but not to do it for them, unless there are cognitive or mental health issues involved. You have to have enough courage to say no when there truly is nothing more you can do.
My grandmother helped raise me, so “seniors” have never seemed like some “other” group. My grandmother was a very, very strong, capable woman, and I got to see that strength. She was the primary caregiver to my grandfather, lifting him and being his support. From a young age, I had the realization that just because you age doesn’t mean your capacity diminishes. Your needs may increase or change, but that shouldn’t be a stigma. I don’t see getting older as meaning you’re less vital.
The funny thing about this job is that you see the best that can happen to you and the worst. Because of my glass-half-empty personality, I think about what I don’t want to happen to me as I age. I’m the only one of my friends who has a power of attorney. I am already considering long-term care and disability insurance. But more importantly, I am focused on staying healthy, physically and emotionally. I want to be ready if the time comes when I have to ask for help I never thought I’d need.