Caregiver Identity: An Interview With Expert, Zander Keig

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Caregiver Identity: An Interview With Expert, Zander Keig

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As a part of our Caregiver Spotlight series, we interviewed Zander Keig: veteran, co-founder of the LGBTQ Caregiver Center, and caregiver advocate.

Caregiving.com: How do your race and sex affect your ability to access caregiver support resources?

Zander: I'm not so sure that any of that came into play, at least not in Florida where there's a large Hispanic community. I’m a first-generation American of Mexican heritage. My father was born in Mexico. I’ve lived mostly in places where there's a large Hispanic community. My father is a Veteran of the military and so I sought out services for him through the Department of Veterans Affairs; since all types of people serve in the military there is really nothing about sex or race that matters when seeking resources through the Department of Veterans Affairs. My father served in the Marine Corps so he was eligible for certain benefits and I didn't have any issues accessing those benefits at all. 

On a personal note, I'm a trans man so my father knew me as his daughter for the first 39 years of my life. I’m 55 now. He can get a little confused about whether he has a son or a daughter. I need to be prepared for when my father starts asking for his daughter. I have decided not to get alarmed about it, but I'm aware of it. I can handle it. I'm strong and resilient. My father has dementia and I don't want my identity to affect his care. The best advice I've been given by a dementia specialist is that I should just have a conversation with my dad as if he’s talking about his daughter while talking to him as a friend, affirming his reality.

I've been asking for things like if there are any Spanish-speaking residents that my father can be introduced to, or if are there any Spanish-speaking staff that can make a concerted effort to go and speak Spanish to my father. The reason I was asking for that is that I noticed that the last couple of times I've gone to visit, he's greeted me in Spanish. My father didn't teach me Spanish so I don't speak Spanish. I was thinking he would appreciate the conversation. The best the facility was able to do was give him a Spanish language bible which he had no use for. My dad has never been a religious man.

I've been to a couple of caregiver support groups and nothing about my race or sex has become a topic of conversation. I don't disclose that I'm trans when I go to caregiver groups, most of the time I feel it's not pertinent to my situation.  

Caregiving.com: What are resources that you would put on a wishlist for you to feel more secure in your aging process?

Zander: I’m fortunate because I'm married, we just celebrated our 19th anniversary. I feel I’m good because I have a spouse that’s 10 years younger than me, so when I retire she’ll keep working. I have long-term care insurance and as a service-connected disabled veteran, I'll take advantage of all the same services and resources my father has through the Department of Veterans Affairs. I'm also quite fortunate to have access to a lot of resources online.

The real godsend for me was finding a male caregiver support group. There aren't as many of those. Caregiver organizations and support groups are primarily run by women and the majority of the people who attend them are women. I went to two or three different caregiver support groups before finding a male caregiver group here in Orlando, Florida. There were 25 men the last time that I attended the group in October. It meets monthly in-person at a Dennys. 

In the other caregiver groups, people would ask me “Where is your mother?” or “Where's your wife?” I was not recognized as a caregiver. People acted surprised to encounter caregivers who are sons, fathers, uncles, and husbands. 

Caregiving.com: What did you do for self-care before starting the LGBTQ Caregiver Center?

Zander: Before that, I was not really doing much self-care. I was working full-time and managing my dad's affairs while living with my wife in Jacksonville, Florida. When I wasn't working or taking care of my dad, I was with my wife. 

I went and saw a therapist for a while. it was a good thing, to have that support. I went every two weeks. One time I just showed up and said "yeah, everything's alright" but I wanted to keep the appointment just in case. Everything was going well until COVID-19 lockdowns happened.  My wife and I were sent home to work and my father’s adult day program closed. Thankfully, I was able to locate affordable residential respite care services for my dad. Prior to COVID my wife and I would go out of town overnight to getaway. We would take walks with my dad on the weekends, take him to the movies, and do recreational activities. 

Then my wife and I moved to Orlando and started new jobs. I now lead wellness webinars where I teach self-care techniques, mindfulness, and breathing exercises. So now, I'm practicing self-care throughout the week.  I also teach people about: 

  • Navigating uncertainty
  • Getting a good night's sleep
  • Regulating emotional distress
  • Communicating more effectively
  • Managing Interpersonal and organizational conflict

Jennifer Henius and I co-founded the LGBTQ Caregiver Center in June of this year, as a way to provide a virtual resource hub for LGBTQ-identified individuals who are caregivers. We have a Share Your Story page, we’re building a resource directory, and we offer ways to connect with other caregivers. Isolation is a big issue for caregivers. The caregivers are also able to participate in Yoga 4 Caregivers, another part of the Caregiver Wellness Collective.

An important part of this project is establishing access to resources that cater to LGBTQ caregivers. Many existing resources target LGBTQ aging adults who face discrimination and prejudice from healthcare workers, families, etc… and we wanted to establish a place where LGBTQ caregivers can go to get the support, training, and resources they need. A lot of caregiving is done by non-professionals, which could mean friends and chosen family members.

Caregiving.com: Did your military background inform your caregiving? If so, how?

Zander: I joined the military to be of service to the community. I then went into law enforcement and then became a social worker. Now as a caregiver, I consider it a continuation of the mission to serve. My first job out of my MSW Program was at the VA. That gave me access to knowing what kinds of resources are available for Veterans at the VA, such as: 

  • Adult Day Care
  • Nursing homes 
  • Medical respite and foster care
  • Geriatric clinics

I'm constantly telling people that if their loved one ever served in the military, that they should go get him/her enrolled in the VA. The VA paid for my dad’s Adult Day Care. It cost  $70 a day. They also sent home health aides. The VA also provides up to 4 weeks of medical respite every year so that you can go on vacation and your loved one is taken care of by the VA. The VA has a  lot of really great resources. 

Caregiving.com: How do you believe the U.S. needs to change in order to be a better place to age?

Zander: One of the things that I think would be really helpful is if caregivers could somehow quantify the number of hours that are being spent on the caregiving process to get some sort of tax breaks, similarly to how parents get tax breaks when they have children. Why not extend the same kinds of tax breaks to family caregivers? 

I don't know why there's any difference between being a caregiver for a parent and being a parent to a child. My father was denied Medicaid initially because he had too much money in the bank, even though his only source of income is social security\. He has no pension, no properties, no stocks and bonds, no investments, no retirement funds. He doesn't have access to things like VA Aid & Attendance because he didn't serve during wartime. I had to spend down $12,000. It’s not so easy to spend that amount of money on a person with dementia living in assisted living.

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