OHIO VALLEY — It is a labor of love, as the name implies. Caregivers make it possible for older people to age at home despite common challenges. This month, the Area Agency on Aging Districts 7 and 8 are celebrating the extraordinary efforts of caregivers.
Norma Torres of Meigs County has been a caregiver since 2000 when her mother had a stroke. Now that her mom is gone, she takes care of her father who suffers from crippling arthritis and dementia. She would not have it any other way. She says she was blessed with “wonderful parents” who supported her through every stage of life.
“I thank God I was given the opportunity to serve them in this way,” Torres said.
As a registered nurse, Torres had the confidence to do the job, but still it takes its toll. She says services provided by the Area Agency on Aging District 8 helped give her part of her life back. Through a Caregiver Advocacy Program, the agency offers services and resources to help families.
“They bring someone in a few hours a week,” Torres said. It gives her a respite, a time to breathe, and a time to take care of her own business. Torres is the director of the Think Pink program. “If I need to be gone, there is extra care here.”
The Area Agency on Aging offers certified staff specialists in aging information and assistance who are ready to connect seniors and their families to services.
In 2000, the Area Agency on Aging District 7 Family Caregiver Support Program, which serves Gallia County, was created through funding provided by the Older Americans Act. The term caregiver refers to anyone who provides assistance to someone else who, to some degree, needs help performing the daily tasks essential to living a normal life. Formal caregivers are paid care providers associated with a service system, but informal or unpaid caregivers such as a spouse, friend, significant other, other family member, or neighbor do not receive pay for the assistance they provide. Unpaid or informal family caregivers will likely continue to be the largest source of long-term care services in the United States providing an estimated value of $450 billion worth of service each year. Day in and day out, more than 65 million family caregivers in the United States fulfill this vital role, providing more than 80 percent of all homecare services.
According to AARP, nine out of 10 seniors prefer to “age in place” — or to receive long term care in the comfort of their own long time home. Caregivers like Torres are essential to the success of such living arrangements.
“I want to keep him home as much as I can,” Torres explained. “In the long run, I think it’s easier for folks to be at home — if at all possible.”
Sometimes that commitment means tracking her father’s 17 daily prescriptions and supplements or getting him to doctor’s appointments. Other days it means making sure he eats.
“It can be keeping them going when they don’t want to keep going — because you love them,” Torres said.
The AAA7 Family Caregiver Support Program offers counseling and caregiver training. Additional services include: information about available services for the caregiver and the person they are caring for, assistance in gaining access to those services, respite care, and supplemental or one-time purchases to complement the care being provided. Eligibility for respite and supplemental services are determined during an assessment that is conducted by an AAA7 employee.
The Area Agency on Aging says while serving a loved one is challenging and rewarding, it is also a demanding job. Caregivers often fail to realize the importance of taking a break for their own health and well-being. Even though many families are committed to providing care to their loved ones so that they can remain at home, the physical, emotional and financial consequences for the family caregiver can be overwhelming. That is why the agency helps to connect caregivers with information and support.
Over the past decade, the awareness gained by family caregivers and others has changed caregiving from a private family situation to a societal issue. Today, policy makers, employers, insurers, and healthcare professionals are beginning to address the concerns of family caregivers. Family caregiving is an issue for all of us.
The AAA7 believes it is important for places of business to recognize that employees are often providing care for loved ones and may need assistance. As a community member, you can take action by delivering dinner to a caregiving family once a week, offering to provide the caregiver a short break, or providing transportation. The Family Caregiver Support Program at the AAA7 can offer advice and check on options that may be in your community depending on availability, eligibility and other factors. As more and more individuals are being cared for at home by loved ones and friends, there is an even greater need to have as much caregiving support options and services available as possible. The AAA7 continues to advocate for caregivers and advocate for the continuation and growth of support services and programs to best benefit their needs.
The National Family Caregivers Association (www.nfcacares.org) encourages caregivers to:
• Believe in yourself – Try to maintain a positive attitude by recognizing your strengths and limitations.
• Protect your health – Try to maintain your physical and emotional health and well-being. Your good health is the greatest gift you can give your loved one and your entire family.
• Reach out for help – Reaching out and asking for help is never a sign of weakness, rather it demonstrates strength and a keen awareness of your own abilities and sense of self.
• Speak up for your rights – Be knowledgeable of the issues surrounding your loved one’s diagnosis and treatment options. Advocate for your loved one and develop strong self-advocacy skills for not only your loved one, but for you, as well.
AAA8 serves families in Meigs County. AAA7 serves families in Gallia County.