“Receiving support from Iyashi Care has not only helped me as a caregiver but has also improved my uncle’s quality of life.”
Aileen Tanimoto Matsuura is no stranger to caregiving, having previously cared for her parents as well as other older relatives. For the past few years, she has been caring for her 100-year-old uncle, Kazuo “Kay” Tamaki, with assistance from Iyashi Care, a community-based palliative care program for older adults in the Japanese American and Japanese-speaking community.
Kay lived in the San Fernando Valley for many years but began to have difficulty caring for himself in recent years. He also fell frequently, and his family worried about his safety at home alone. Eventually, he moved into an assisted living facility closer to Aileen.
Reverting to Japanese
As a Kibei Nisei (born in the U.S. but raised in Japan), Kay is bilingual in English and Japanese. Aileen recalled hearing him speak primarily in English when she was growing up.
“Over the past few years, however, Uncle Kay has gradually reverted back to speaking primarily Japanese. I can understand some Japanese, but communication has become more challenging,” she explained.
Aileen learned about Iyashi Care from her daughter’s friend, who worked at Keiro.
“Having a palliative care team that can speak both Japanese and English is so helpful, especially in explaining health-related issues to my uncle,” Aileen said.
Navigating Advanced Planning and Difficult Decisions
Aileen shared that she had been encouraging her uncle to complete an advance health care directive for years, but without success. She expressed this concern to Iyashi Care physician Dr. Yuichi Edwin Yanami, who then took time to explain to Kay why having an advance directive was important.
“And the next thing I knew, Uncle Kay had filled out his directive,” Aileen said. “I was so relieved!”
The team has also provided Aileen with guidance when she was faced with making difficult medical decisions. Last year, Kay was hospitalized due to a fall. When he was discharged, some of his health care providers strongly recommended that he be put on hospice.
“I didn’t quite understand their reasoning, other than they kept mentioning his advanced age,” Aileen said. “So I called Iyashi Care, and Dr. Yanami came within a day to check on Uncle Kay. We discussed the pros and cons of hospice – that helped me so much in deciding to keep my uncle on palliative care for now.”
One of the most valuable things to come out of Kay’s time as an Iyashi Care patient is that he feels more comfortable sharing his health concerns.
“Before, Uncle Kay was a typical older Nisei man – very stoic, very stubborn, didn’t complain when he was in pain. So it was hard for us to know when he needed help. But Dr. Yanami and the team have really taken the time to get to know him, asking about his hobbies, his favorite food, what he does for exercise,” Aileen shared. “And now, he’ll tell Dr. Yanami when he doesn’t feel well, even before he tells me!”
Aileen has recommended Iyashi Care to several of her friends and would encourage anyone who needs additional support to inquire.
“The team is incredibly kind, caring, and so responsive. By taking time to get to know their patients and families, they are able to build up that trust that ultimately improves quality of life for everyone involved in caring for an older adult.”