More to Mo­rales

Natalie Mo­rales is lov­ing her new West Coast role and life, but the Ac­cess co-host re­veals how a fam­ily bat­tle with Alzheimer’s got her to re­think the fu­ture. Here’s what she wants more women to know about the re­al­i­ties of care­giv­ing.

Working Mother - - Contents - by Meghann Foye Pho­to­graph by Cheyenne El­lis

TV host Natalie Mo­rales gets can­did on care­giv­ing and her own work-life bal­ance.

As the world has seemed to tilt at warp speed for the past two years, Natalie Mo­rales has been em­brac­ing a more laid-back ap­proach from her newly built home in Brent­wood, CA. And the move to the West Coast to co-host Ac­cess, its morn­ing show, Ac­cess Live, and re­port in to To­day as West Coast an­chor seems to be suit­ing the jour­nal­ist just fine.

For years, the Rut­gers alumna bal­anced 4 a.m. call times and re­port­ing on break­ing-news head­lines with jug­gling life as a mom to two boys, Josh, now 14, and Luke, now 9, in Hobo­ken, NJ. Be­hind the scenes, Natalie and her fam­ily had been brav­ing an­other strug­gle for years.

At just 55, her mother-in-law, Kay Rhodes, was di­ag­nosed with early-on­set Alzheimer’s. For 15 years, her fa­ther-in-law, along with her hus­band, Jay, and Jay’s sis­ter’s fam­ily, helped man­age his mother’s care, first at their home in Colorado and then in an as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity. She passed away at age 70, but see­ing Kay live with the dis­ease at such a young age had a tremen­dous impact on the whole fam­ily. “So many of us moms are used to the care­giv­ing part, but now we’re find­ing our­selves hav­ing to take care of our own par­ents. It’s some­thing that a lot of peo­ple don’t pre­pare for, and you cer­tainly don’t ex­pect that in your 50s. [I kept think­ing that] this could be me 10 years from now,” Natalie shares.

Now, Natalie ad­mits, “we are much more mind­ful about tak­ing health­ier ap­proaches in life.” And she’s sought to make spread­ing aware­ness of the chal­lenges of care­giv­ing one of her pri­mary ad­vo­cacy mis­sions. Here, Natalie shares what she’s learned, and why she’s pri­or­i­tiz­ing two things—healthy liv­ing and en­joy­ing time with her fam­ily.

HONOR ROLL

Natalie, along with her hus­band and fa­ther-in-law, re­ceived the care­giver award at the an­nual Rita Hay­worth Gala in May for her work with the Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion. “It was an in­cred­i­ble honor,” Natalie says. “It was nice to also rec­og­nize all those in the care­giv­ing role—which un­for­tu­nately is be­com­ing more com­mon.” The gala was started to bring aware­ness to the 5 mil­lion peo­ple bat­tling Alzheimer’s and the 16 mil­lion fam­ily mem­bers car­ing for them.

Q How did you learn that your mother-in-law was deal­ing with Alzheimer’s at such a young age?

In plan­ning for our wed­ding ( back in 1998), her dis­ease re­ally be­came ap­par­ent. We had sent our wed­ding bands to Jay’s par­ents in Colorado. She had hid the bands be­cause she was ner­vous that they would be stolen, and she couldn’t re­mem­ber where she hid them. She was hav­ing some mood and per­son­al­ity changes, which we were not at that point aware of be­cause we were liv­ing in the New York area. But my hus­band would go visit and say, “Some­thing is wrong.” Then, fi­nally she was di­ag­nosed. Now I’m us­ing my voice be­cause I have a plat­form to share a story, which I think is be­com­ing more com­mon.

Q How did you work to­gether as a fam­ily to fig­ure it all out?

I think that’s the key: pulling to­gether as a fam­ily. Even though we were all in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions, my hus­band and his sis­ter would al­ways make an ef­fort to go out there ev­ery few months or so to check on their dad. Kay was still in the prime of her life [when she was di­ag­nosed], so it took 15 years for the dis­ease [to progress]. She was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing symp­toms, of course, but we saw to­ward the end she couldn’t talk, she couldn’t walk, she could barely lift her head up.

The fi­nan­cial as­pect of it is crush­ing, which a lot of peo­ple don’t re­al­ize un­til it’s too late. On av­er­age, 70 per­cent of life­time costs of car­ing for some­one with de­men­tia is borne by fam­i­lies. It’s like a mort­gage, and in Colorado, it isn’t as ex­pen­sive as it is in some ar­eas, but I think Jay’s fa­ther was pay­ing around $6,000 a month to have her in a full-care Alzheimer’s fa­cil­ity. It’s out­ra­geous, and a lot of peo­ple say,

“Well, there is in­sur­ance, and Medi­care and Med­i­caid to take care of them.” But that runs out very quickly, and then it’s all on you. Whether it’s tak­ing care of your aging par­ent with de­men­tia or Alzheimer’s, or even a sick child, we have all had that point in our lives. You never know when it’s go­ing to be longer than five years. In the case of Alzheimer’s, and es­pe­cially early-on­set Alzheimer’s, it can last more than 10 years. For a fam­ily, that can be de­bil­i­tat­ing.

Q What was the tough­est part of the ex­pe­ri­ence?

It was hard bring­ing my son, Josh, and our baby, Luke, to visit her. Josh would al­ways ask, “What’s wrong with Grandma?” They were even a lit­tle bit afraid of go­ing there be­cause they saw some­body who didn’t look like my mom, who is per­fectly healthy. See­ing this other grand­mother who didn’t know who they were, who didn’t have that grand­moth­erly re­ac­tion to them, couldn’t re­ally hold them or talk to them, and didn’t have a con­nec­tion, as a mom, was heart­break­ing.

Q What is your num­ber-one piece of ad­vice for work­ing moth­ers who might not be in this po­si­tion yet but could be in the fu­ture?

I would say try to plan for what’s ahead.

You have to be five steps ahead of this dis­ease. Also, share the bur­den. Don’t take it all on your­self be­cause it’s too hard. As work­ing moms, we are al­ready pulled in so many di­rec­tions and it’s nor­mal to want to be there for our par­ents, but you are, in the end, go­ing to suf­fer all of the con­se­quences if you do that by your­self. I would also say reach out to or­ga­ni­za­tions that are there to help. The Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion has been so won­der­ful with my fa­ther-in-law, and he is still there and ac­tive in his lo­cal Den­ver chap­ter of the Alzheimer’s fa­cil­ity. They are na­tion­wide and have so many re­sources avail­able. One time my fa­ther-in­law just needed a break—an hour or two a day—and they had vol­un­teers come to his house. He didn’t want to pay for care yet at that point, and this lovely vol­un­teer named Teri Sur­nan would come to the house and do art projects with my mother-in­law for an hour or two ev­ery other day. She did it out of the kind­ness of her heart be­cause she had a par­ent who was di­ag­nosed with Alzheimer’s.

Q How did you work out the care­giv­ing du­ties with your hus­band?

For him, it was more about work­ing it out with his sis­ter. And for me it was about work­ing it out with the kids and hav­ing a full ca­reer. It was a lot, but they worked it out so well, and again, all the credit goes to my fa­ther-in-law, who was so won­der­ful and lov­ing. He felt like he needed to be the one who did a ma­jor­ity of the work, but he knew that he

could call on us and we would be there for what­ever he needed. My fa­ther-in-law also has a won­der­ful com­mu­nity of friends around him who are prac­ti­cally fam­ily.

Q How do you and your hus­band divvy up child­care and other home du­ties?

There are things that Jay is great at do­ing, and I have my strengths. My hus­band is much more the calm, non-emo­tional type, whereas I’m highly stressed and overly emo­tional, so we bal­ance each other re­ally well. I think I’m re­ally good at com­mu­ni­cat­ing with peo­ple about what we need and get­ting an­swers quickly, whereas he calms me down when I might be get­ting a lit­tle too crazy. He’s also the one to re­mind me, “Don’t press send on that email just yet!” I think it’s im­por­tant to have that bal­ance and com­mu­ni­ca­tion with each other. I know that I can rely on him when I’m feel­ing over­whelmed. He’s the one who says: “OK, take a step back. We can do this. We’re a team.”

Q What ad­vice do you have for work­ing moms who are pro­vid­ing care for their par­ents too?

Take care of your­self! I think that you need to give that to your­self, whether it’s ex­er­cise or tak­ing the time to med­i­tate. Stud­ies show that med­i­ta­tion works so well for the brain, es­pe­cially when we’re talk­ing about Alzheimer’s and how your brain needs time to re­cover and un­wind af­ter a hard day of stress over work. For me, work­ing out is my med­i­ta­tion. I would like to say that I med­i­tate as well, but my mind does not shut down! Find that time for your­self, and make sure your fi­nances are in or­der and that you have a long-term plan as well as a short-term plan.

Q Was your fam­ily’s ex­pe­ri­ence part of the rea­son you made the de­ci­sion to move from New York City to Cal­i­for­nia?

It was more of a bucket list thing for my hus­band and me. My kids were go­ing into sev­enth and sec­ond grade. It seemed like it was time for a change. I grew up an Air Force brat. I moved ev­ery three years on av­er­age. So af­ter liv­ing in a small town for 15 years—I loved Hobo­ken, NJ—I thought my kids needed to get out of their com­fort zone. [I went to my bosses, and] I was like, “Lis­ten, things are chang­ing, my role is chang­ing; what do you think about this? We have al­ways talked about need­ing more of a West Coast pres­ence.” I pre­sented them with this op­por­tu­nity and this role, and they went for it.

Q That’s a great ex­am­ple of speak­ing up for your­self. A lot of us only see roles that al­ready ex­ist and feel like we have to cram our­selves into them.

I’m not go­ing to lie. It’s hard for a lot of peo­ple to see when their role is chang­ing or if things are chang­ing around you, and fig­ure out, “How do I fit in?” I think the key is, “How do you find some­thing for your­self?” Again, I think [ be­ing open to change and try­ing new things] all goes back to this be­ing good for your body and your brain.

Q What do you say to peo­ple who may have per­ceived the role change as a down­shift?

I don’t want to have re­grets from not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing other things and hav­ing other op­por­tu­ni­ties. So, for me, the change of liv­ing a life that was per­haps a lit­tle more ful­fill­ing and fun, and be­ing home more of­ten with the kids, rather than be­ing on the road cov­er­ing tragic break­ing news sto­ries all the time [was a no-brainer]. I get to cook din­ner for them more of­ten. I am home to help with their home­work more of­ten. So I am much more of a mom now. I was al­ways try­ing to fig­ure out, how do I have a great ca­reer and find that bal­ance? Which we all know doesn’t ex­ist, but [it was re­ally] how do I find a way to make this job work for me and my fam­ily? I think I have found that so­lu­tion.

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