NBC’s hit show “This Is Us” has come to an end, but not before shining a light on caregiving, family relationships, dementia and the little moments in life.
This article contains spoilers for the last season of the show.
The show, which followed the lives of the Pearson triplets, their parents and later on, their children, brought with it many lessons over the span of its six seasons. In the latest episodes, a large emphasis was placed on caregiving for loved ones who are older or sick.
Family caregiving is a difficult job, but many people take on the role to care for their elderly parents. More than 34 million Americans provided unpaid care to others who were 50 or older in the prior year, according to a 2015 National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP report. The height of the pandemic highlighted the issues of caregiving, especially as nursing homes were locked down and workers were told to stay at home with their children and older relatives.
In “This Is Us,” matriarch Rebecca Pearson, played by Mandy Moore, suffers from dementia, chooses one of her three children to act as the final decision maker in the event her husband isn’t available. She eventually succumbs to her old age and illness. Pearson’s second husband (her first, Jack Pearson, played by Milo Ventimiglia, dies in a fire when their kids were teenagers) cares for her as long as he physically can, but quickly deteriorates and dies before she can grasp what happened to him because of her dementia.
In both instances, the triplets have to have difficult conversations with each other, their spouses and Pearson’s husband about the proper care she needs. When Pearson was first diagnosed with dementia, she had multiple, at times contentious, discussions with her children about the right treatment for her illness, and whether she was willing to go through with experimental trials or not.
The show highlighted just how unexpected the role of caregiving can be, how it can drastically affect caregivers’ lifestyles and when to seek help. In “This Is Us,” the triplets discuss who will take their mother in when she’s unable to care for herself after her husband dies, with one son eventually moving into her home with his wife. When Pearson’s husband begins slowing down because of his own health issues, the triplets sit him down and convince him to get professional help with health aides to care for the both of them, even though he originally resists.
Talking openly about these issues is emotionally challenging, but it can make a huge difference when that care is eventually needed, experts say.
Aging loved ones can share their wishes and live out their lives with dignity, while the future caregivers who take on the role can plan ahead – either with their siblings or other relatives, or with the assistance of medical professionals. Families can also make financial plans for long-term care, such as budgeting for health care and nursing home facilities, looking for programs to assist those unable to pay for certain care or mapping out how caregivers will balance their work and own personal needs with those of their older loved ones.
The National Council on Aging lists resources for seniors on their website, including programs and departments dedicated to senior care. Benefits.gov and Benefitscheckup.org also list out social services. Caregivers may also be able to take unpaid leave from their jobs for this role under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and in some instances, might even be able to get paid for their work from medical benefit programs depending on the state.