Guiding Caregivers

Jamie Spooner ’87 creates a Website that supports those caring for elders

by Karen D. Brown

Jamie SpoonerJamie Spooner ’87 became a long-distance caregiver when her mother called from across the country to say her father had not been out of bed that week. Spooner helped usher her father from hospitalization to assisted living to what would become a graceful death at home.

Right from the beginning, Spooner, a Website developer from San Francisco, turned to the Internet for help on everything from legal matters to health insurance to resources for emotional support. “I was finding pretty generic information,” she said, “and a lot of Websites that were difficult to use. When you’re a caregiver, you’re in a very stressful mode. You want information fast.”

In the aftermath of her own family crisis, in 2009 Spooner decided to launch, a comprehensive resource for elder care geared toward spouses and middle-aged children. The Website provides practical information on common concerns such as Alzheimer’s disease, Medicare, and health-care facilities. It also offers a pay-as-you-go consultation service with health experts—a virtual doctor’s office—and a series of video interviews with remarkable seniors, which she calls “Wisdom of Elders Across America.”

What are the biggest surprises for those who find themselves as caregivers for family members?
I think the biggest surprise is how much work it really is. My father had an in-home health aide who came twice a week, but my 82-year-old mother was still cutting up his pills and making sure he was fed three times a day. My father was prone to falling, so she was concerned about leaving the house—even to get groceries—for fifteen minutes. For a year and a half as a caregiver, she had practically no ability to leave the house.
How can guide caregivers?
We offer advice on how to get help, including respite help, which is important. The Website also helps give people a sense of community. When you watch other caregivers in our videos, you think, “What a relief, I don’t feel alone anymore.”

How can children prepare themselves to care for aging parents?
Make sure all the legal paperwork is in order, and that you talk to your parents about their wills and trusts, to make sure they are taken care of while they’re still lucid. Also, make sure you understand what your parent wants for the days they will require care. They may have saved money and want someone to live in their home. Or they may choose to go into an assisted-living facility and have a particular place in mind.

How does America compare with other countries in caring for elders?
Unlike fifty or sixty years ago, families are scattered, which makes it harder for the older generation to be taken care of where they live. In Hispanic and Asian cultures, I see intergenerational living where the grandparents are living with family members, and they’re taken better care of. I’m not trying to be puritanical; I live 3,000 miles from my mother. I think it’s a challenge on both sides.

Parting thoughts?
The whole undercurrent of is about creating reverence for the older generation. If we treat our elders with more dignity, we’ll create a more compassionate society.

SAQ Winter 2010-11