By Madina Toure

A Hollis woman who spent two decades caring for her mother, stricken with dementia, received a state Assembly proclamation and the AARP I Heart Caregivers award.

Editha Santiago, 73, who was born in the Philippines and is married with four grown children, cared for her mother, Cesaria, for nearly 20 years. Cesaria was diagnosed with early-stage dementia in 1990 and could not walk because of problems with her knees. Her father, who had esophageal cancer, died in 2000.

Santiago, a retired nurse and one of 10 children, took on the majority of her mother’s care. Cesaria died in August at the age of 97, four weeks after she fell and suffered a compound femur fracture.

She had to help her mother with all daily tasks, with some assistance from her husband and her sisters.

“All that daily living that she couldn’t do anymore, that’s what I would do,” she said.

She also said her mother enjoyed going to casinos and that her sisters would help out sometimes.

State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) said he was pleased to know Santiago, whom he dubbed “the senior of the year.”

“She’s literally eight or nine blocks from where I live, so it’s nice to know we have wonderful neighbors like that,” Weprin said.

Nearly 2.6 million caregivers in New York state alone help older parents, spouses and other loved ones live independently at home and the unpaid care they provide is valued at about $31.3 billion annually in New York state, according to Weprin.

Santiago was raised in the Cagayan province in the Philippines. Her parents were farmers and she had three sisters and six brothers.

Santiago has been married for 46 years and has four children, a 39-year-old daughter and three sons ages 40, 42 and 44.

She worked as a nurse at Parkway Hospital in Hollis Hills from 1987 to 1990 and at Highland Care Center, a nursing home in Jamaica, from 1990 to 2003.

Santiago said she will always remember her mother as “very independent,” noting that she had not realized her mother had dementia until they went to see a doctor 25 years ago.

As she sifted through her memories, Santiago reverted to the present tense: “I take care of her and in my mind, my mother is still my mother, very independent.”
She added, “There’s nothing wrong with her.”

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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