Former truck driver finds inspiration as his grandmother’s caregiver
Albert Hernandez had many opportunities after he retired from his 36-year-long career as a truck driver. But when his 94-year-old grandmother became immobile and was diagnosed with dementia, he knew no one could take care of her better than family.
Hernandez enrolled at CLTCEC’s IHSS+ Training to improve his skills as a caregiver. He came into the course with extensive experience as a longtime Boy Scout leader, having supported his 18-year-old through to earning his Eagle Award, the highest honor in Boy Scouting.
Even though he learned first aid and CPR with the Scouts, Hernandez said he wanted to update his knowledge.
“I signed up mainly for first aid and CPR, but once classes started, I found out all the information they offered was really good,” he said. “It’s my opportunity to learn. The more I learn, the better I can be of service.”
Now, Hernandez is using what he learned from CLTCEC in his work as his grandmother’s caregiver. “She used to love to go shopping, going to the casinos, she was always cooking, and she used to be a caregiver to her parents. She did what we’re doing for her now,” he said.
But the dementia has taken a toll on Hernandez’s grandmother. “She wakes up at 4 or 5 a.m. with night terrors so she never has straight sleep. She forgets what year it is. She forgets she broke her leg and she can’t walk anymore,” he said.
Two of the most important lessons Hernandez learned in his IHSS+ training were how to be patient with his grandmother and how to communicate with someone showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia. “I had to learn to live with saying the same things over and over. ‘When are we going home? When are we going home?’ ‘Grandma, you are home.’ They told us that in training,” he said. “So now I have more patience with my grandma, but also with everyone else at home.”
Hernandez said he was disappointed about California’s stay-at-home order when it was first issued in mid-March, since he was in the middle of training.
“I was bummed out, but I knew they would come up with something,” he said. “The transition’s been successful. Zoom allows everyone to interact face to face. Instructor Juliana (Mata-Pacheco) did a fantastic job. She knew exactly what she was doing from the first meeting. It was excellent.”
Hernandez attended his last online class in May and completed his competency test — done live through Zoom. But he still needs to complete CPR certification, which has been postponed until the stay-at-home orders are lifted. Mata-Pacheco led his class graduation on Zoom, enjoying how students checked in on each other and building up their work support system.
“Their role (as a caregiver) is isolating, so to have that comfort and relationship with other caregivers is rewarding,” she said.
At home, Fernandez said he gets help from his wife, son, and mother-in-law. “We all have a hand in taking care of Grandma,” he said. “It can be hard. But I’m using a lot of what I learned. It’s validating what I’m doing, like how to change a dressing or reading information on power of attorney.”
Hernandez said his second act after retirement is also inspiring him to think about a career as a back-up caregiver. The job has always been more than just about a paycheck, he said. Serving the consumer with respect and dignity, he elevates his work with the same life-giving values.