In homes all over the area, a relative is taking care of an older or disabled person today. They might be helping them to dress or shop for food, or remind them to take medicines or even just make sure they're safe at home. They're not alone - the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that more than 44 million Americans provide unpaid care to an elderly or disabled person 18 or over every year. A large percentage of these people are family caregivers - spouses caring for husbands or wives, or adult children or grandchildren caring for elderly relatives.
The reality is that most Americans will act as a family caregiver at some point during their lives. Some will be juggling paying jobs in addition to their caregiver duties, and some will still be raising their own children while caring for their elderly relatives. And they may not realize that help is available.
Being a family caregiver for an elderly loved one can be incredibly rewarding. Caregivers usually report they enjoy feeling needed, knowing they are doing something good for someone they love and building a stronger, closer relationship. But caregiving can take its toll mentally and physically, and most family caregivers report feeling the effects of "caregiver stress" at some point.
The best way to reduce the effects of caregiver stress is to ask for and accept help. Make a list of ways others can help you, and let your family and friends choose what they want to do. One person might volunteer to take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week, another might offer to pick up groceries for you. Consider bringing in outside help, such as non-medical home care from an agency like Visiting Angels, one or more days a week to give everyone a break as well.
Take a note of these signs of caregiver stress - if any apply, you need help:
• Feeling overwhelmed.
• Sleeping too much or too little.
• Gaining or losing a lot of weight.
• Feeling tired or exhausted most of the time.
• Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy.
• Becoming easily irritated or angered.
• Feeling constantly worried.
• Feeling sad.
• Experiencing frequent headaches, bodily pain or other chronic physical problems.
• Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medication.
If you are a family caregiver, it is both normal and common to feel the effects of caregiver stress. That's why it's essential to plan your care, too, and to have a plan in place to manage that stress before it results in severe mental and/or physical health issues. In order to take the best care of anyone else, you must first take care of yourself.
Eagle County Health and Human Services has a wealth of information and resources which are available online and by calling 970-328-8840. In February, Carly Rietmann from Public Health has organized a Parkinson's support group. The next meeting is on Feb. 21 from 4-5 p.m. at Trinity Church in Edwards. The meet regularly on the fourth Thursday of every month. Carly can be reached at 970-328-8896.
Pat Nolan from Public Health has organized a Caregiver Support group that meets on the 2nd Monday of every month at Eagle River Presbyterian Church in Edwards from 4:30-6 p.m. Pat can be reached at 970-328-8840.
Eagle Valley Senior Life has many local resources and offers respite for caregivers. Eagle Valley Senior Life can be reached at 970-977-0188.
Some options to explore include:
• Home health care services (such as nursing or physical therapy).
• Transportation and meal delivery assistance.
• Non-medical home care, to help with hygiene, meal preparation/diet monitoring, light housekeeping, errands, shopping and companionship.
• Home modification to make it easier for your loved one to perform daily tasks.
• Respite care, either in-home, or out-of-the-home through home care agencies, adult day-care centers, short-term nursing homes or day hospitals to give you a much-needed break.
Once help is in place it's vital that you take proper care of yourself. Make time each week to do something that you enjoy. Try to find time to be physically active each day, eat a healthy diet, and get enough sleep. Get regular checkups from your physician, let him or her know that you are a caregiver, and be sure to share any symptoms of depression or sickness you may be having. Stay in touch with family and friends, and join a support group for caregivers.
I am in the process of developing a community-wide volunteer support group that will provide some services to those in need of aid. Many of our residents within Eagle County have already expressed an interest in volunteering. If you or anyone you know would like to volunteer to assist persons in need of help, your assistance would be so very much welcomed. Please talk to your friends, neighbors, and people with your religious organizations. I will soon provide a method of collaboration. Your comments and suggestion in Town Talk are always appreciated.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. His contact information is: www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.