When Randi Luoto’s husband Dennis suffered a stroke in 2015 and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a year later, it was crushing for her. Randi knew nothing about caregiving and found herself suddenly thrown into the role of an unpaid family caregiver. “I wondered, ‘What am I going to do?'”
Eight years later with her husband’s worsening progression of the disease, another stroke, heart attack, significant hearing loss and severe sleep apnea, her journey has unfolded unceasingly and with heartbreak. Throughout, she says, they both have kept an “upbeat attitude.” She also has a full schedule accompanying Dennis to rehab and doctor appointments, an Alzheimer’s support group and two half-day programs for folks with memory loss. Until last year, Randi had been able to maintain her own set of activities, including a 15-year stint following retirement as a volunteer with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s SCORE, counseling small business owners.
“My husband’s cognitive issues got too severe for me to leave him at home alone for more than one or two hours,” she says. “You just keep moving forward.”
But during a visit to the doctor, Randi, 77, says, “I broke down.” She shared the exhaustion and heartbreak of watching her husband of 50 years become less and less of who he was and the physical and emotional toll of 24/7 care. The doctor she shares with her husband “urged/ordered:” “A few hours here or there aren’t enough. You need to take a week off.”
Around this time, the Seattle mom of three adult daughters and six grandchildren, heard about Road Scholar travel adventures from friends and peers. She started scouring the site. A six-day trip to New York’s Metropolitan Opera House jumped off the website page. “It sounded so dazzling, so alluring,” Randi says. “Growing up the whole idea of the Met fascinated me. My dream was someday to live in New York. I was sold from the word, ‘Met.”
Like many caregivers, Randi grappled with, and anguished over, the idea of leaving her husband. She told herself: “No, it’s not for you. I can’t really justify it financially.”
But thanks to the Road Scholar’s Caregivers Grants, Randi’s dream came true. Through this unique caregiver initiative, caregivers like Randi receive grants up to $1,500 toward the cost of a Road Scholar program. A caregiver’s insurance benefit from one of her daughter’s employers covered the costs of hiring caregivers for Dennis while she was way. She says, “That was the hardest part of the trip to leave him.”
Fast forward to May, 2023 when Randi attended Road Scholar’s Ultimate Opera: Two Productions at the Met.
She and 26 Road Scholar adventurers stayed for five nights at The New Yorker Hotel, an Art Deco icon of the city’s skyline and tucked into the heart of Midtown. She attended two performances and took a backstage tour of the Metropolitan Opera House, along with private performances by three of the Met’s soloists and appearances by heads of various Met departments.
Her week of fun and learning included strolls through Central Park, sightseeing other New York landmarks and a walk along the High Line trail, a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan's West Side. The group also dined at some of Manhattan’s finest eateries. “The desserts were divine and I never left a bite of dessert on my plate,” she says. “The food, the wine! I gained four pounds. But what I loved the most was the specificity of every day, which was so thoroughly planned out and organized. I learned so much!”
Randi’s experience speaks volumes about the profound impact of the Road Scholar Caregiver grants on the plight of those immersed daily in the care of a loved one. “It gave me time to be myself and to soak in all the energy and excitement of being in New York.”
She is one of nearly 43.5 million Americans who are taking care of family members with no pay or outside help, at the same time juggling her own home and work life. Until recently, Randi was a volunteer for SCORE. But retired when the doctor’s appointments, chauffeuring Dennis to his weekly activities, not to mention assuming the full-time household roles, became overwhelming.
“The experience felt kind of like the ‘Make-A-Wish’ programs, but for caregivers who really need a break,” says Randi. “It can be lonely and you can feel like no one hears you even when your little voice is calling out. But this program is great because it recognizes you and makes you feel like someone heard you and wants to do something good for you.”
Randi says she is “beyond grateful,” for this unique caregiver initiative. It relies on the generosity of donors who can send the message “you are not alone,” by supporting our Caregiver Grant Program.
When you support Road Scholar Caregiver Grants you send a message to caregivers like Randi that “you are not alone,” and you give the gift of restoration and recharging. Your donation allows us to send a deserving caregiver on a Road Scholar learning adventure in the U.S. or Canada to immerse themselves in an inspiring topic. During that time, they have the opportunity to rest and be recharged.