Jun 2, 2012

Taking Care of Snootzie

"I told him when she first started having trouble, I'm like, you know, I don't want to put her in the nursing home".

By Alzheimer's Reading Room

On a recent evening, the Martin family of Harrisburg, Pa., had too many places it needed to be.

AnnaBelle Bowers, the 87-year-old matriarch of the family who is also known as "Snootzie," was at home — watching television and getting ready for bed.

Someone needed to care for her. That fell to Chris Martin, her 14-year-old great-grandson.

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Family Matters: Pitching In To Take Care Of Grandma


Heard on Morning Edition -- NPR


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene. Let's return to Family Matters. It's our series focusing on three families going through the same experience: They've decided to bring different generations under the same roof to get by.

This morning, we're returning to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And you might remember this voice. She was on our program a few weeks ago.

ANNABELLE BOWERS: I just feel like I'm a burden, but the girls don't even think that way of me. I make their day miserable, but I make it.


GREENE: Breaking the tension with some laughter, there. That's AnnaBelle Bowers. She's 87 years old. Her family has a nickname for her: Snootzie. Keeping her at home takes time and sacrifice, and the other night, the sacrifice fell to her great-grandson, Chris, who stayed at home to look after her. Now, that meant that the rest of the family could come here.




UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hey, Lauren, you got two on her.

GREENE: It was this gorgeous evening at a county park. There were kids rolling by on bicycles, or in uniforms on ball fields. Chris' sister, Lauren, had a softball game.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Cheering) One, two, three (unintelligible).

GREENE: Her parents, David and LaDonna, were watching right along the third base line. And I chatted with them about what they've learned from all the juggling they've been doing.


GREENE: One question I had for both of you is, you know, how taking care of Snootzie has shaped the way you think about your own later years?

LADONNA MARTIN: I mean, I wouldn't say it's changed my approach. I hope that someone would do that for me. You know I mean? Like, that's why I do it. I told him when she first started having trouble, I'm like, you know, I don't want to put her in the nursing home.

DAVID MARTIN: And unfortunately, I mean, at some point, she'll need a level of care that we can't provide. If you haven't figured it out, my grandmother is rather bullheaded sometimes, and she knows it.


MARTIN: She'll walk around without a walker, and she would step away from it and start reaching and turning. Well, that's how she's going to fall. And we had to tell her flat-out, you know, grandma, you fall down and break a hip, we can't take care of you. Like, we live in a two-story. The amount of care that it would require is more time than we would be able to give her, you know, and still like maintain our kids' activities and their livelihood. She...

GREENE: Sounds like a blunt conversation, though. That sounds like a...

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

GREENE: ...wouldn't be able to take care of her and have nights like this at the ballpark and giving time to your kids and...

MARTIN: Well, I couldn't, because like right now, Chris is home with her. And she has the bell there. He's upstairs. You know, I said grandma, if something - you know, if you need anything, you ring that bell. And Chris knows if she rings the bell to come to her.

GREENE: I hear them yelling, Lauren. Is she batting?

MARTIN: Yeah. Lauren's up right now.

GREENE: How is she as a batter?

MARTIN: So, eh, she hits pretty good, here. That's her friend, here, pitching to her.

GREENE: Can you talk us through the at-bat and tell us what's happening?

MARTIN: Yeah. I don't even know what the count is. I was talking to you guys. I'm not so sure of the - uh-oh, full count. Here we go. This is the pitch.

GREENE: Big pitch.

MARTIN: Full count. She's got to swing to stay alive, here. Oh, foul ball. It's up in the air, and caught by the pitcher. Aw, he got her. There we go.

GREENE: She will have more at-bat later.


MARTIN: Yeah. We should have more at-bat.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hear a little chatter, yellow.

GREENE: So Chris is home tonight...

MARTIN: He is.

GREENE: ...with Snootzie.

MARTIN: Right.

GREENE: Is that - for a 14-year-old, is it hard? Like, would he rather be out with friends sometimes, you know, kind of outside, playing in the neighborhood or...

MARTIN: I mean, there's some - I'm sure sometimes there are, you know, and I'm, like, honey, you've got to - you have to stay, you know, 'cause we've got to run.

MARTIN: Actually, Lauren, she's been real good. I mean, obviously, my grandmother doesn't want her grandson to see her naked. So, Lauren, my daughter, has been of great help at night, helping her get her, like, pajamas on and stuff.

BOWERS: I think we expect a little bit more from them. You know, they got to...


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Good job, ladies.

GREENE: Do you handle losses OK? I know it wasn't the best result for the team, but keep your head up and get at it next time. Right?



GREENE: So how's Snootzie?

MARTIN: Yeah, it's OK. Good.


MARTIN: Hanging in there.

GREENE: I know your brother's with her tonight. Like is it a - when you have that responsibility, like is that, that a lot for someone your age, or how do you deal with it?

MARTIN: Well, she doesn't really need a lot of help. We usually get her a snack, get her a glass of water before we go upstairs, and do our stuff. But she's usually good by herself for a couple of hours, and then every, like, 30 minutes we'll go down and check on her, see if she needs to go to the bathroom, get up, get food, drink and so on. So she's usually covered.

GREENE: We were just, we were just talking to your parents about being with her, you know, so much, being so close to her, like how it's kind changed how you think about, you know, the future, how you might take care of your parents when they're that age. I mean, what sorts of thoughts do you have?

MARTIN: I mean, I hope they're fit when they're 60s, 70s, 80s. But I know there will be time when they're in a walker and can't walk anymore and need help, bathroom. But I'll be ready when they're old.

MARTIN: Aw, training them right. Training them right.


GREENE: And there are pictures of Snootzie with her great-grandchildren and photos from all the stories in our Family Matters series at our website, npr.org.

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