Women United Hosts Open Discussion About Aging Loved Ones

For most of her life, Catrice Pruitt’s mother was devoted to helping others – first as a nurse and then as a substitute teacher.

But in 2018, Pruitt’s mother was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. And all of a sudden, the two of them were the ones who needed help.

On Tuesday, Women United, one of United Way of Central Alabama’s (UWCA) leadership giving societies, hosted a lunch & learn panel discussion about taking care of aging loved ones; and Pruitt was one of many local women in attendance.

The panel featured speakers from four local agencies which all support seniors and caregivers in Central Alabama, including:

  • Julie Gafnea, Staff Attorney with Legal Services of Alabama.
  • Selina Huff, Geriatric Social Service Director at Positive Maturity.
  • Morgan Rhodes, Aging and Disability Resource Center Coordinator at UWCA’s Area Agency on Aging.
  • Lauren Schwartz, Executive Director at Collat Jewish Family Services.

It can be difficult for both parents and children when aging starts to affect the daily life of seniors. Often, the first step for adult children, Schwartz said, is observing and acknowledging that a senior parent may need some help.

“For the most part, older adults don’t want to feel like a burden on their children, their friends and neighbors or even on their spouse, so they’re likely to try and cover up those things,” Schwartz said. “You have to be a sleuth. You really have to look through a different lens.”

The hard part of taking care of a senior parent is remembering that “you’re still the child,” Schwartz said.

“To approach these issues,” Schwartz said, “you have to think, ‘How do I maintain their dignity? How do I not make them feel like they’re a child?’”

Rhodes, who previously monitored nursing homes as an ombudsman, said adult children often take well-meaning actions that deny the autonomy of their parents. At many nursing homes, for example, children of residents are often upset when their diabetic parents have eaten sugary food.

“Seniors often don’t want the sugar-free option. They are allowed to get the sugar option. Why? Because this nursing home is not a prison,” Rhodes said. “This is their home.”

Gafnea stressed the importance of planning for advanced age as early as possible, which enables families to preemptively make decisions about senior care.

“Planning early allows you to guide what your elder care is going to look like in those years,” Gafnea said. “You can have those conversations with your children and say, ‘Who is going to have the capacity to assist me when I no longer can do these things for myself?’ It also allows that child to consider that in their life planning.”

After attending the panel discussion, Pruitt said she not only appreciated the amount of information she received but also the opportunity to be around other women in similar situations.

“It was helpful coming into a room and seeing other women who share the same issue because you kind of think that you’re alone in this situation until you begin to meet other people who are dealing with, or who have dealt with, the same things that you are experiencing,” said Pruitt, who is also Director of Programs at Childcare Resources, a UWCA partner agency.

The Aging Loved Ones panel was just the first event of Women United’s educational programming for 2024. Each year, the group hosts a variety of educational, networking and service opportunities. Some of last year’s programs focused on early education, childcare and substance-abuse recovery.

Women United is composed of women who contribute more than $1,000 to UWCA annually and are actively seeking opportunities for self-growth and ways to move our community forward.

For more information about UWCA’s leadership giving societies, including Women United, visit https://www.uwca.org/leadership-giving-societies.