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Caroline Bell Of Anderson, South Carolina Honored As One of The 2010 Parentgivers Of The Year

The numbers are staggering. Over 43 million Americans are caregiving for an older loved one. Beyond being unpaid for their efforts, many have had to reduce their hours at a paid job or even leave it completely to devote themselves to an older parent, a spouse or a sibling. Caregiving brings emotional rewards, but also sacrifices, including the caregiver’s own physical and mental health as their needs are constantly moved to the back burner. To recognize these unsung heroes and raise awareness about the challenges caregivers face, created the Parentgivers of the Year Awards and is announcing the inaugural recipients, ten outstanding caregivers who were nominated by friends, family—including their own grown children—and health professionals who have seen their devotion firsthand.

Among the 10 honorees is Caroline Bell of Anderson, South Carolina. Four years ago, in the space of one month, Caroline lost her job after 18 years in the corporate world due to downsizing and became a caregiver to her parents when she discovered that her mom was showing signs of dementia. "I thought Mom and Dad had their act together—they ran a successful business, had life insurance, a healthy retirement account and their house was paid for. Did I have to worry about them when I was climbing the corporate ladder to fulfill my dreams? As it turns out, yes," says Caroline. 

As the family's affairs were sorted out, Caroline started taking care of her dad Bob moving him into her home, while her mother who had broken her hip moved in with Caroline's sister. Her mom's type of dementia is responding to medication, whereas Caroline's dad has had many physical setbacks, including a short stay at assisted living, a recent stroke and three months of rehab that followed. Caroline, who had just gotten married when her parents' health declined, had a steep learning curve that included finding out how to get her dad VA benefits, which environment was best for him—living at home or assisted living—and then how to prepare for the chosen environment. Beyond modifying her home so that her dad could better navigate it, Caroline became a certified nursing assistant or CNA through the Red Cross and is currently working toward getting her gerontology certificate to better care for his health needs. 

Recognizing that her situation is far from unique, she founded a company, Preparing for Care, LLC, to make what she learned through caregiving available to other adult children about to or now caring for their parents. Caroline frequently speaks Caroline frequently speaks to women’s groups and companies on topics such as how to start a proactive dialogue with your parents regarding aging transitions. Caroline assists to create an aging plan for your parents to ensure the golden years remain golden. "I went from St. John suits to scrubs getting my CNA so I could understand my father, help him as he moved through the next transition and learn how to care for someone with dementia," she says. Caroline admits that she has experienced every emotion possible, from anger to depression, but now sees what happened as a blessing, saying if she can help people ask the right questions of their parents, ask them in the right way and help them be more prepared for aging, "maybe children can remain children and parents can remain parents." 

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