Kupuna Life: A caregiver for the ages

Kupuna Life

A woman moved to California for her career but moved back home for her family. 

It’s a passion of hers to help others—especially Dad. 

“My father called me ‘doctor’ from when I was small,” said Kupuna Caregiver Dr. Pokii Balaz. “I guess he saw my path before me. I wanted to be an astronaut when I was in elementary.”

Dr. Balaz moved back from Los Angeles in 2012—leaving a promising career at Cedars Sinai—after her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. 

“Nothing in my career or school prepared me for the role that I was about to embark on,” Dr. Balaz said. 

But she continues to persevere as the primary caregiver to her father, a physician at Kokua Kalihi Valley, a support group facilitator, ambassador, and state champion for the Alzheimer’s Association Aloha Chapter—all while continuing to serve the Native Hawaiian population. 

“It has to be done, and I just make sure I get it done because my inspiration is him, and knowing that I can help to be that little piece of the puzzle that might be able to help someone improve their journey or the quality of life of the caregiver. Maybe they won’t have to go through the troubles that I went through when I started out.”

And she always stresses to live in the moment. 

“I was supposed to be out the door in five minutes and I apologized when I got there and I let them know why but I stayed with him,” she said. “He laughed and smiled, and once in a great while he’ll reach up and hold my hand and I put on the music, and he started tapping his foot. So those moments are rare now as the disease was progressing and I made sure to enjoy those moments.” 

Her father is in the end stages of Alzheimer’s—but she’s honoring his request: to age in place, with his family by his side. 

“I hope that when he smiles at me every day or when he gives me a nod or I put music on for him, the two of us are dancing together. That’s his way of telling me that I’ve done a good job—that he’s happy with everything I’m doing. I’d like to believe that and I think that he would be proud of me.” 

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