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'Carefluencers' Are Helping Their Elderly Loved Ones and Posting About It| GuyWhoKnowsThings

On the east side of San Jose, California, there is a grandmother who seems to have more grandchildren than she can count.

“Many people see me and hug me,” Mardonia Galeana, 89, said in Spanish. “I don't even know them, but sometimes they ask me for a blessing on the street and I do my best to their forehead.”

His image has been presented in a painting at the San José Museum of Art and in a mural in the city's mission district. But it is his online presence that has captivated the thousands of people who have found the photos and videos posted by his grandson Yosimar Reyes.

“Seeing your grandmother smile and having a good time really warms my heart,” one user commented under a video of Ms. Galeana having fun at a senior center while others danced to a song by merengue singer Elvis Crespo.

Reyes has been narrating moments from her grandmother's life on a private Instagram account followed by more than 21,000 people. Her publications have shown a trip they took to New Orleans, her walks with her dog, Chulito, through the San José flea market and occasional visits to the doctor.

Although Mr. Reyes calls himself Ms. Galeana's “personal stylist,” he is first and foremost her caregiver: taking her to her appointments, managing her medications and making sure she has a roof over her head.

“I take pride in taking care of and dressing my grandmother,” said Reyes, 35. “That she's not going to be out here in a muumuu. She also grows her nails and that is a big boost for her self-esteem.”

Francesca Falzarano, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California's Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, has a term for the growing number of people like Reyes who share behind-the-scenes looks at the everyday realities of providing services around the clock. day. care for your elderly loved ones.

“In my research lab, we call them 'carefluencers,'” Professor Falzarano said. “Social media is really the only way that many of these people can access support, education and a sense of belonging.”

Mr. Reyes, a poet and artist, was raised by his grandparents and came with them to the United States from Guerrero, Mexico, in the early 1990s. “Even as a child, I was a caregiver,” he said. “I had to translate documents and help my grandparents navigate this country because they were older and didn't speak English.”

Mr. Reyes, who was appointed 2024 Santa Clara County Poet LaureateHe said he has felt overwhelmed at times since fully taking on the role of caring for his grandmother during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I'm trying to build a career as an artist and writer, but I still have to come home and take care of someone,” said Mr. Reyes, who has described your experience as a caregiver in poems like “Grandma has a fever.” “Some days I am emotionally exhausted. And if she's having a bad day, I have to make sure I'm not reactionary.”

As the population ages, Mr. Reyes' experience is likely to become more common. According the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionThe number of unpaid caregivers in the United States increased to approximately 53 million in 2020 from 43.5 million in 2015.

Chris Punsalan of Las Vegas, who became a caregiver for his grandmother Anicia Manipon eight years ago, has shared his experiences with her on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.

“I decided to document us because I felt it was important,” said Punsalan, 30. “It's not just for me to be able to look back, but little by little I also realized that it was very useful for people who have gone through a similar situation.”

Punsalan, who has more than two million followers on TikTok, has created content in addition to caring for his grandmother's bedsores, preparing breakfast for her and sharing the products he uses to take care of her needs. Since Ms. Manipon's death in January, he realized that his social media accounts had done more than provide information and comfort to other family caregivers.

“During his funeral, my cousin said something that really touched me,” Punsalan recalled. “He said, 'Every time I miss my grandma, I have a video library to remember her by.'”

Jacquelyn Revere, an aspiring television writer from Los Angeles, began posting about her experiences. she became the primary caregiver for her mother and grandmother in 2016. She said she found comfort in trying to help others in her position through social media and the number of people who followed her on Tik Tok grew to more than 650,000.

“When I was posting about my mom, I didn't feel like I had to; it actually became fun,” Ms. Revere, 37, said. “Social media gave me a lot of validation and people were saying, 'You're doing a good job,' and it became a place of refuge.”

Ms. Revere's grandmother died in 2017; Her mother died in 2022.

“A lot of my caregiver friends are people I met on social media,” Ms. Revere said. “We've really created a tight-knit community, because it's hard to understand the weight of this role if you've never had it.”

While posting a get ready with me and grandma video on TikTok can give caregivers a sense of community, some viewers can't shake the feeling that such content could be exploitative. Is a vulnerable older family member in a position to give her consent to appear in a video, when the person recording it is responsible for administering her medication?

“That's so heartbreaking,” one user commented on a TikTok video of an older woman struggling to eat. “I wish you all had the dignity to stop posting these messages.”

But according to gerontologist Professor Falzarano, the benefits of caregivers sharing their experiences outweigh the risks. “It's really contributing to greater awareness and visibility of chronic disease in care delivery,” he said.

Professor Falzarano, 32, whose research focuses on dementia, family care and technology for older adults, also noted that while there are a variety of resources readily available to expectant parents, the same cannot necessarily be said of those who fight against the end of life. life.

“We all have this universal experience where we will need to provide care or need to be cared for at some point,” Professor Falzarano said. “Why not start thinking about it now?”

Galeana, who will turn 90 in December, has not been able to return to the home in Mexico that she and her grandson left behind more than three decades ago. With no clear path to American citizenship, the two have built a permanent home of sorts online.

“She is older and has been through a lot, from poverty in Mexico to everything we have experienced in the United States,” Mr. Reyes said. “My goal now is to make sure she is happy and not always talk about how sad her life was. And people here love her and know her as grandma. It's lovely.”

Whether she is recognized at the market or strangers who found her online send flowers or gift packages to her home, she has become a local celebrity.

“When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an artist,” Galeana said in Spanish. “She danced and sang and wanted to be on the movie screen. But it never happened.”

But later that week, after Mr. Reyes had done her hair and makeup, she was ready to be the star of a video that would be seen by thousands of people.

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