A Helping Hand for Family Caregivers

Posted on 07/1/2013 by | AARP Blog Author | Comments

Princeton resident Gary Snow and his wife, Eileen, are caregivers for his 101-year-old mother, Mildred Snow. Photo by Whitney Curtis

Gary Snow, of Princeton, is a caregiver for his 101-year-old mother, Mildred Snow. Photo by Whitney Curtis

By DeAnn Smith • Zoia Martin went to the doctor regularly, but she was so focused on caring for her ailing 75-year-old mother that she put off having a mammogram for three years. Admonished by her doctor, Martin finally got the mammogram—and a cancer diagnosis that required surgery and radiation.

It was a wake-up call.

The 58-year-old Cape Girardeau resident said she eventually realized that “I cannot be effective as a caregiver if I’m not taking care of myself. As a caregiver, you have to learn balance.”

She reached out to the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging (AAA). The exercise and relaxation CDs the agency provided have helped Martin find a balance between caregiving and self-care. On a more practical side, the agency provided her mother with $300 in medical supplies.

Martin is among the roughly 1.3 million Missourians who provide unpaid care for a frail or ill adult family member or friend. The economic value of this caregiving tops $8.9 billion, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute. Helping caregivers manage stress and obtain essential services is among the assistance provided by the state’s 10 regional AAAs.

In-home services

A goal of the AAAs is to help people live in their homes as long as possible by providing some services and information that may prevent or delay a move to a nursing home. AAAs provide home-delivered meals, respite care and counseling options for people 60 and older. Some services are free, although contributions are requested, and not all agencies provide all services.

The extra help can ease the responsibility of a family caregiver.

When a Missouri caregiver contacts an AAA, a staff member asks questions about the situation. An in-home needs assessment may be scheduled to help review what services would be most useful for the caregiver and the loved one, said Catherine Edwards, executive director of the Missouri Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

“I’ve had people tell me everything is fine, and they cry through the [assessment] interview,” said Kathy Bullis, family caregiver support program director for the Southeast Missouri AAA.

Gary Snow, 68, has found the services vital.

The Princeton resident is responsible for the care of his 101-year-old mother, who lives independently. He takes her to medical appointments, gets prescriptions filled and visits her daily.

He also organizes her in-home services, which are provided by the Northwest Missouri AAA. The agency provides delivered meals and aides to do light housekeeping, provide companionship and help her bathe.

“With all the help I’ve gotten, I don’t know what I would have done without it,” Snow said.

Link caregivers, resources

To reach other caregivers who may be struggling, the state AAA association and AARP Missouri are planning an all-day caregiver conference for Nov. 8 at the Southeast Missouri Alliance for Disability Independence (SADI) in Cape Girardeau.

In addition, for those who can’t attend the conference, webinars on caregiving topics will be available starting this summer.

Craig Eichelman, AARP Missouri state director, said webinars are especially important because some caregivers may not be able to get away from their caregiving duties to attend workshops. Details on both will be posted at aarp.org/mo. {http://states.aarp.org/category/missouri/}{embed in the URL}

More information on caregiving is available at the AARP Caregiving Resource Center at aarp.org/caregiving.

DeAnn Smith is a writer living in Independence, Mo.

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