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Getting to Know a ‘Hero’ in a Whole New Way

A granddaughter honors her cherished grandmother by helping her age in place


spinner image Rachel Hiles and her grandmother sitting together
Caregiver Rachel Hiles helps her grandmother with a crossword puzzle. 
Katie Currid/AARP

Rachel Hiles, 32, of Kansas City, Mo., runs her own media and design business and is a caregiver for her grandmother Barbara, 82, who lives in her own house, 15 minutes away. Rachel started caring for Barbara after she fell and fractured a vertebra and had a colostomy for diverticulitis in 2015.  

The Biggest Challenge

 “The hardest thing for me is when you realize your loved one’s trajectory is going down and there’s nothing you can do to stop it or bring it back up. Sometimes I have anticipatory grief — I start to think about what’s going to happen when I lose Grandma. Right now, all I can do is know that I’m doing the best I can and try to make every moment as joyful as I can. That way, I’ll have a huge reserve of happy memories to draw from when she’s no longer with me.”

— Rachel Hiles
spinner image Rachel Hiles helping her grandmother into the car
Katie Currid/AARP

After Grandma fell, I got a crash course in caregiving. It’s important to her to stay in her own home so I’m committed to doing whatever I can to help her age in place. At this point, she can be alone at night — I’ve set up cameras in almost every room and at the front door so I can keep an eye on her when I’m not there. But during the day, she needs help. She relies on a walker to get around her home and she has memory problems related to dementia.

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spinner image Caregiver Aisha Adkins with her parents

I work full-time so during the week, I’ll let my dogs out after work then drive to my grandmother’s house to spend most evenings with her. I also spend Wednesdays and huge chunks of time on the weekends with her. Recently, I hired some help so I can take a couple of weekdays off from caring for Grandma — I get a lot of work done on those days. I also organize her doctor’s appointments, pay her bills, and make sure she has spending money and money to pay the helpers. Basically, running my grandma’s care is like running a business — there’s a mission, a vision, certain values and a customer, who is my grandma. There’s a lot to manage. I have to train and supervise the helpers, pay them, and coordinate their schedules.

spinner image Stephanie Hanamaikai brushes hair from her mother's face

When I am with Grandma, I’ll help her bathe, get dressed and change her colostomy bag. Once a week, I take care of the laundry, set up her medications and make sure she has all the medicines she needs. I do the shopping and I prepare her meals; I make sure she has enough food to eat to keep everything moving smoothly with her colostomy bag. When the weather is nice, we like to go down to the marina, feed the fish and enjoy being outside. Other times, we’ll look at old photos or read short stories together.

spinner image Caregiver Kristin Davie poses with her brother and parents

AARP Care Guide: Help caring for a loved one at home

spinner image Maegan Pavioni sitting with her mother

Right now I don’t do a very good job of balancing my personal life with my caregiving responsibilities. I have my blog — TakingCareofGrandma.com — which I find very cathartic. I’m not that social so I don’t get out that much. But that’s okay because Grandma is an important part of my life. I love my grandma. I’m an only child, raised by a single mother. My grandmother helped raise me — she taught me how to read, fed and clothed me, and took me everywhere with her when I was a kid. We spent a ton of time together. One of my primary motivations for doing this is paying her back for everything she’s done for me. Now that I’m an adult I’m getting to know her in a different way — she’s actually one of my heroes.

She’s a very accomplished woman. She was a teacher for 30 years and dedicated herself to literacy and teaching other people, young and old, to read. She was a founding member of a low-income ministry at her church where people can come to get food and clothes. Up until high school everybody knew me as Barbara’s granddaughter. I hope that one day I’ll have a reputation as wide reaching as she does.

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I feel like this is what I should be doing and I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can. Nowadays, it seems like nobody thinks it’s their responsibility to take care of their loved ones when they need it but it really is up to us. Most older people want to stay at home as they age, so we need to do what we can to help them because of what they did for us. Being able to give back to Grandma — by taking care of her in her home and keeping her safe and happy — gives me so much joy.

— as told to Stacey Colino

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