When I first walked into the home of Guthrie (Gus) Elder, Lakefield, MN, I was not sure what to expect. I was prepared to meet an aging veteran with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) and expected to see only sadness and resignation. A tough guy in a tough spot, for sure.
Well, let’s just say that Gus pretty much swept me off my feet with story after story of his service years, his family, the challenges and joys of these later years. He is still king of his roost, with Janice Reyes as his primary Caregiver and Team Leader managing every aspect of his care. She is also a grand companion who brings quality of life with her smiles, understanding and compassion. In our time together it became very clear to me that Janice is the hub at the center of Gus’s living well at home.
Gus is the first Minnesota veteran enrolled in the Veteran Directed Home and Community Based Services (VD-HCBS) Program. The program is a collaborative between the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging®, Inc. and the Sioux Falls VA Health Care System.
Gus is receiving support from numerous fronts, including planning help from PVA (Paralyzed Veterans of America), the VA and the ALS Association. He raves about the people who provide education and support in his daily contention with the disease. Gus is a great example of what you can do to manage practically any situation so you can live longer in your own home. His story is uplifting, courageous and truly a model that others can follow.
The home that Gus lives in, along with his son and his care providers, is a one of a kind—just like Gus. Built with his exact challenges in mind, every doorway is completely flush with the floor (no bumps), the doors are all wider than usual, the bathroom is a feat of technology and function and yet a very comfortable “normal” feeling room. It’s more like something you would see in a nice hotel or spa than in a medical facility. Well done, Wisconsin Homes.
There are other pieces of technology that make life at home possible including a computer rigged with a special camera and software that allows Gus to control the TV, send email, call family or call for help or just browse the internet—all with just a look from his eyes.
Gus would love to share his thoughts and his strategies for living at home with other Veterans who are facing similar challenges. If you know of someone who needs help to stay in his or her home, think about Gus’s story and reach out to your local Area Agency on Aging and other agencies that can provide the assistance needed.
Written by Nancy Pehling, Bend of the River Consulting 2011. © 2011 Minnesota Board on Aging.