- Associated Press - Saturday, August 27, 2016

THIBODAUX, La. (AP) - Thibodaux native Ronnie Gros does everything for his wife.

He cooks her dinner, feeds her, bathes her, changes her clothes, and makes sure she takes her medicine.

He does these things not just because he’s a devoted husband, but because his wife Virgie needs him to.

The 70-year-old mother of three is in the final stages of dementia, which was caused by Alzheimer’s disease. She was diagnosed in 2008.

Up until about 2010, the disease was only causing Virgie to have memory lapses every now and then. Now, she is in a constant state of confusion, calling her daughter by her sister’s name and thinking her husband is her father.



She’s also growing weaker as Gros has to often hold onto her so that she doesn’t fall.

“The hardest part is knowing that I’m going to have to put her in a home,” Gros said. “It could be two years from now, it could be six months. I don’t know.”

Until that day comes Gros is committed to being his wife’s caregiver, a role that’s not always easy but is very common among many families across Louisiana and the United States.

In fact, 660,000 Louisiana residents are caring for an older parent or loved one and helping them live independently at home.

Whether it’s running errands, managing diabetes medications or giving baths, caregivers are frequently tasked with various responsibilities. But they don’t always know the right steps to take when caring for a loved one.

That’s where the Louisiana Family Caregiver Act comes into play. It requires hospitals to provide patients the opportunity to designate a family caregiver, inform caregivers when their loved one is to be discharged to another facility or back home and give live or video instructions of the medical or nursing tasks needed to perform at home.

“What we’re hoping is that this will ease the burden on families and their care for their loved ones and help them feel more educated,” said Denise Bottcher, state director for AARP Louisiana. “And eventually we’ll see a reduction in readmission among patients.”

Louisiana is the 25th state to pass the law. Oklahoma was the first to pass it in 2014.

State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, wrote the bill with the notion that “it will make a world of difference in the life of caregivers.”

Archived video from an April 30 Senate meeting on legis.la.gov showed Colomb speaking on the act’s behalf, noting that caregivers provide 615 million hours of care per year for aging parents or loved ones.

After surveying 1,000 registered Louisiana voters 45 and older last year, AARP representatives found that 80 percent of them would appreciate better instruction and more demonstration in some of the nursing tasks.

“Over half of caregivers are already performing some type of nursing task. There’s a great need and urgency for better relationships with hospitals and caregivers,” said Andrew Muhl, director of Advocacy at AARP Louisiana.

AARP Louisiana also found that most of the Louisianans surveyed want to live at home as long as possible when they get older.

“That’s not surprising because family is incredibly important to Louisianans,” Bottcher said. “So how can we (support caregivers) in a way that’s beneficial for everyone?”

In addition to better educating caregivers, the Louisiana Family Caregiver Act also allows caregivers the ability to be designated on a patient’s medical record.

“Caregivers were never designated before on a medical record,” Bottcher said. “Now you’re able to do that.”

For the most part, none of what’s being called for in this new legislation is unusual.

Spouses and children are often told how to care for their loved ones upon their hospital release.

This act simply calls for an “added designation.” It also allows for caregivers to be more than just family members. They can be neighbors, friends or co-workers, too.

The act became law on Aug. 1 so it’s still in the beginning stages.

“Where we are now is really at the more important phases of the law. It’s one thing to pass a law. That’s just a small first step. Real impact comes with educating the community about the law’s existence, making sure it’s enforced and there’s a lot of awareness and education around it. Our job is really just beginning,” Muhl said.

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Information from: Daily Comet, https://www.dailycomet.com

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