Caregivers need help, too, and there's support available

Posted: Friday, October 03, 2003

Margaret, a working woman in her 40s, checks on her mother twice a day, takes her shopping, cleans her house, handles her bills, and constantly worries about her mom who is 75 and growing more forgetful.

Bill, a retired gentleman in his 70s, bathes, dresses, feeds and around-the-clock takes care of his wife of 50 years, Sarah, who had a massive stroke last year.

Jane, 70, visits her neighbor and lifelong friend, Mary, 85, each morning. Jane helps Mary get ready for the day, takes her to lunch and handles many of her affairs since Mary has become increasingly frail.

Each of these wonderful people is an example of a "caregiver." It is essential that over 25.8 million persons in the U.S. are unpaid caregivers - spouses, adult children, relatives, neighbors, friends - caring for older persons who are chronically ill, frail or mentally impaired and need assistance daily activities. Nearly one out of four households is involved in caring for an adult age 50 or older.

Yet, these daughters, sons, husbands, wives, neighbors and friends who spend so much physical and emotional energy caring for a loved one, often do not identify themselves as caregivers. This is a problem. Being a caregiver can be one of the most tiring and stressful experiences in life and caregivers need the support necessary to make it "for the long haul." The majority of caregivers provide unpaid assistance for one to four years and 80 percent of caregivers provide unpaid assistance seven days a week.

Without help, the caregiver's health often deteriorates. He or she may experience depression, anxiety or insomnia. Their relationships and jobs may suffer. Thus it is increasingly important that we help people such as these to see themselves as "caregivers." Early identification of a caregiver can make a real difference in terms of being able to adequately care for the elderly and continue to handle other daily demands such as a job, children, finances, relationships and, most of all, one's health. Pointing out to a friend that he or she is a caregiver is the first step to connecting him or her with the variety of support available.

About 85 percent of all home care is provided by friends and family (only 14 percent is rendered by paid providers). The national economic value of unpaid caregiving by family and friends is over $196 billion per year - an amazing savings to American taxpayers. In November 2000, Congress recognized the tremendous sacrifice these people are making for their loved ones by passing the National Family Caregiver Support Act.

This Congressional Act gives federal grants to states and tribal organizations in order to provide:

• Information to caregivers about available services

• Assistance to caregivers in gaining access to services

• Training, counseling, and support groups to help caregivers make decisions and solve problems concerning their caregiving roles

•Temporary relief from caregiving responsibilities through respite care

• Limited supplemental services not available through other programs

Since 2001, Alaska Legal Services, Alzheimer's Disease Resource Agency, Southeast Senior Services (CCS) and Tlingit and Haida Central Council have received grants to offer Caregiver Support services in Juneau (and other communities). For information on specific services available through these agencies, please call the Senior Information and Caregiver Support Office at 463-6177.

• Marianne Mills oversees citizen nutrition and transportation programs in Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, and Yakutat as a staff member of Southeast Senior Services, a program of Catholic Community Service. CCS assists all persons regardless of their faith.

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