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Caring for the caregivers ...
(Editor’s Note: This piece also appears in Neighbors 2011, the new annual Senior Resource Guide published by the Sequim Gazette in cooperation with the Olympic Area Agency on Aging.)
In the U.S., senior care has changed radically in recent years. Today there is an unprecedented level of professional support available for seniors and others requiring care, whether it’s a simple medical procedure, long-term care or even end-of-life counseling.
But in the end, someone — a friend or a relative, perhaps an adult child — must take on the responsibility of ensuring their loved one is well cared for.
That’s a tough gig.
Just ask Carolyn Lindley, an Olympic Area Agency on Aging “family caregiver support specialist.” She’s been working this beat for 18 years and has learned a thing or two about ensuring that caregivers are also well cared for.
Start at the beginning
When a caregiver comes seeking her advice, Lindley starts with the basics.
“The first thing is, I sit down and talk. And I actively listen.”
From that conversation, and using special survey forms, Lindley creates for each caregiver what she calls a “T-CARE”: a tailored plan, including strategies, to ease the difficulties of caregiving.
Lindley said these T-CARES almost always begin with two agenda items:
1) Get a good physical. Discerning the state of your own health is vitally important, Lindley said.
2) Caregivers should find another activity beyond giving care, something “away from the patient.” This is an important step, she said, in avoiding burnout.
Lindley added a third, saying caregivers who can benefit from additional education on a particular issue should seek out and find the help they need. Lindley said understanding Alzheimer’s is particularly difficult for many caregivers.
Lindley can help, using “Powerful Tools for Caregivers, “a six-week educational program that provides family caregivers with the ‘tools’ to increase their self-care and ability to handle difficult situations, emotions and decisions.”
Lindley says through the program caregivers improve their communications skills while getting a better handle on the issues that often afflict the caregiver, including “grieving, anger, guilt and lack of sleep.”
Rule one, says Lindley: “Express it. Get it out in the open.”
Many caregivers believe the entire focus should be on the patient, but that may simply add to the collective issues. Research shows caregivers are at greater risk of depression and all stress-related medical issues.
Lindley says with the help the agency provides, “we’ve watched people open up and blossom.”
The only cost is $25 for the book, she said.
And there’s more ...
O3A has additional resources for the stressed caregiver. Those who need help with “housekeeping, maybe a couple meals, or just to get away — out of the house,” can turn to the agency for assistance.
“It’s a respite program,” Lindley said. “It gives respite to the caregiver, not the patient.”
If the caregiver and patient meet certain financial criteria, the agency also may find a way to help pay for the assistance.
Beyond that, O3A has support groups for caregivers and can provide assistance in locating more information on the specific medical issues that attend a specific disease. In the end, Lindley’s job is to improve the lives of caregivers. “We’ll help them find as many community resources as possible,” she said.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.