Medical school is full of new challenges and surprises, but one surprise I was not anticipating was that I would be the only Japanese American student in my entire medical school class at UC Irvine. UCI is known for having a prominent Asian American presence amongst its undergrad population so I found it unusual that I was the sole representation of the Japanese population in my class of 104 medical students. Having grown up playing JA basketball leagues, studying the art of odori and participating in UCLA’s Nikkei Student Union during my four years of undergrad has always provided me with a surrounding Japanese community. Without this familiarity, I realized I needed to be proactive in finding a way to give back to my community. Thus, I connected with Keiro after learning about their mission to serve the community through senior and caregiver support.
The Keiro internship fit my “mission” well in terms of providing a means to become involved in the JA community in a health related manner. Participating in community outreach classes, conferences and other various activities during my time at Keiro has shown me that the senior community is an underserved population. The difficulties older adults face due to aging are not well serviced in society. But why would you not want to invest resources for your future self? I suppose it’s hard to see that far into the future with a society that requires immediate gratification and is all about the “now”. So why not ask what can Millennials, as the younger generation, do now for older adults, which include our own grandparents, aunts and uncles? The answer is not simple but sometimes the simplest things can make a big difference for someone else; especially an older an adult.
This past weekend I attended the Parkinson support group at Union Church in Little Tokyo with my grandmother. She is has health problems of her own, but serves as a primary caregiver, along with my aunt, for my 88 year old grandfather who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s for the past 4 years. My grandmother doesn’t drive anymore because of her vertigo, so even getting to the support group is a challenge in itself that most people do not have to consider. I picked her up early to ensure there would be enough time to get to the church, park, and walk with no rush to the venue. As I have learned, a fall for an elderly person can be life changing and even life-ending.
Once inside, we found seats for ourselves. The seats were arranged in rows but I noticed there was a huge amount of space between each row. I thought this was odd at first but soon realized how considerate and thoughtful this was as I watched my grandmother walk through the aisle with her walker with ease. The simplest changes can make all the difference. We did some stretches and movement exercises for the first 30 minutes before being fed a hearty brunch. I helped my grandmother fill her place since reaching across a table for food requires good balance and becomes an even bigger challenge when you have a tremor. Again, something simple I could do for her. The next hour was filled with a talk on pain in Parkinson’s which was presented by a physician from Kaiser. From a medical student’s perspective, I found the talk interesting and I think my grandmother did too since she asked quite a few questions to the speaker! After thanking our hosts and safely getting back into the car, we made our way back to her home in the valley.
The opportunity to serve my grandmother was invaluable since she has provided so much to me throughout my life. As I mentioned, the simple things can make all the difference for someone. Yet, even in doing those simple tasks like driving, walking slower, serving food, my admiration for caregivers has grown immensely. Serving others is one of the many reasons I chose to enter the field of medicine and my time at Keiro has given me the opportunity to reconnect with that value. There is always something you can do for someone else, no matter how small or simple it may be. You’ll never know the impact unless you try.
Family caregiving is nearly universal. Today, almost 1 in 3 Japanese Americans is a caregiver. There are close to 57,000 Japanese American and Japanese caregivers in Los Angeles, Orange, and Ventura counties. Two-thirds are women and most are family members.
Keiro is expanding our reach from a focus on long term health care facilities to broadly engaging and supporting thousands of Japanese American and Japanese older adults throughout Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties. Keiro provides services to older adults and caregivers, along with programs for residents of Keiro’s former facilities—helping older adults in Our Community to age the way they choose.
For more information and resources for caregivers please visit our website.
About the Author:
Jamie Yabuno is an intern at Keiro and a medical student at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics from the University of California, Los Angeles. Jamie stays Genki by hiking, trying new restaurants and swimming.
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