Taking Care of Other People’s Parents

March 15, 2021

Alicia McCarthy is a social worker at Iona’s Wellness & Arts Center. In this interview, she discusses her daily responsibilities and how she entered the social work field.

What do you do at Iona?

I’m the designated social worker for the adult day health program at Iona’s Wellness & Arts Center. During normal times, the day program serves 40 participants with cognitive impairments and developmental disabilities.

What does the center look like these days during the pandemic?

The center has pivoted to a hybrid model. We have virtual programs twice a day during the week—a 10:30-11:30 exercise program in the morning and in the afternoon we have stimulating discussion groups. Visitors come in from places like the Spy Museum and the Montgomery Historical Society. We also can have up to 10 participants physically at the center daily right now.

How did you start working with older adults?

I grew up with older parents, and I was totally surrounded by older adults growing up. Apparently when I was a kid, someone asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I said, “What do you mean? I’m going to take care of my parents.” So I always tell people, I’m not taking care of my parents now, but I’m taking care of other people’s parents.

What are your responsibilities as a social worker?

Much of my focus is bringing people into the Wellness & Arts Center. Once they decide to join, we have to do an assessment. Out of each assessment there comes an individualized plan of care. That plan is then developed and closely monitored. We meet regularly with the family and we are always reviewing that plan, with the goal of providing the best services that we can to that individual. We’re also engaging with family members and trying to help them out.

You recently started two support groups for family caregivers whose loved ones attend the center. Tell us about that.

We started two groups last April for caregivers who were at home with participants who would normally be at the center but who couldn’t come in because of the shutdown. We used Zoom and it was really well received. One support group has almost become like sisters.

For me, it’s just a way to help them understand that they need to focus on themselves, whether that’s having another family member pick up their loved one while they take a walk or a bath and get some alone time. In a strange way, the Zoom platform has given people more intimacy—you get that opportunity to vent or share tips and information.

By Lauren Stephenson