The elderly woman at the yard sale seemed desperate to talk to someone. A casual conversation turned into a discussion of her husband’s prostate cancer. Although he had survived, it was clear she was still reeling from it, because on top of the shock of having a loved one with cancer, a caregiver has to become equal parts medical coordinator, chauffeur, nurse and maid, on call 24/7. For the elderly caregiver, this is often done while dealing with one’s own medical needs and constraints.
“What about me?” she asked. “Who will take care of me if I get sick?”
So I asked our South Coast healthcare providers what resources were out there to help senior caregivers adjust to these multiple roles while keeping up their own health. Here’s what they had to say:
When care in your home is realistic?
Joanne Gregory, Director of Community Affairs
Southcoast Visiting Nursing Agency
101 Page Street, New Bedford, MA
Providing health and hospice care in the home setting provides many benefits to both the individual and their senior caregivers. Care delivered in the privacy and comfort of one’s home is tailored to each individual’s needs and involves the senior caregiver throughout the process. However, often times senior caregivers lack the skills and/or resources needed to provide care to their loved one. Southcoast VNA staff provide senior caregivers with support and education they need to care for their loved one and themselves.
Caring for a family member or friend is not easy, nor is it something most of us are prepared to do. Southcoast VNA’s hospice and palliative care program staff and volunteers provide respite for caregivers throughout the illness and are able to provide individual counseling and bereavement support for up to 13 months after the death.
Holly Stevens and Keith Guinen, Directors
Beacon Adult Foster Care
227 Walnut St., New Bedford, MA
Senior caregivers are less likely to attend to their own health care needs. As a result, their own health may get sidelined as the care of another takes precedence. Beacon Adult Foster Care provides our caregivers with support and educational materials on how to care for themselves and recognize that they are not alone.
Caring for another person is expensive. The costs of medications, transportation and housing can quickly add up and place a severe strain on the budget. Many seniors are on a fixed income and may have a difficult time paying these costs. Seniors are often unaware of the services and resources available to them. Beacon Adult Foster Care pays caregivers a tax-free stipend to care for their loved ones at home, and as a member of the South Coast Senior Resource Association, we are able to call upon a network of senior care agencies to meet a wide variety of service needs.
(Note: Funding for adult foster care is through the State Medicaid program that currently does not fund spouses as caregivers. Mr. Guinen said that there is legislation pending that would change that to allow spouses to be paid a stipend in order to keep patients at home and defray the cost of nursing homes.)
And when staying at home is not an option, when long-term palliative care is needed, there’s assisted living:
Mark Barwise, Executive Director
Autumn Glen at Dartmouth
239 Cross Road, North Dartmouth, MA
Our involvement with seniors is providing them an alternative to staying at home. As an assisted living community our residents enjoy the independence of their own private apartments with the safety and security of nursing and supportive services.
Spouses and adult children responsible for caregiving face the stresses and challenges of care, medical management, transportation, doctors’ appointments, social activities, housekeeping laundry and more. Those are the things that assisted living does. We establish a care plan for them and staffing to assist in medical management for example, to make sure that they’re getting their medications on a regular basis
One of the greatest rewards is when the caregiver, who has had to worry about every little detail, stops by to visit and Mom is too busy. When she asks them to call ahead next time, you see the relief on the faces of the caregivers as the weight is lifted off their shoulders. They get to go back to their primary role as spouse or son or daughter.
Trish Hunter, Director of Planning and Community Development
Bristol Elder Services, Inc.
1 Father DeValles Blvd, Unit 8, Fall River, MA
Bristol Elder Services covers the Greater Fall River area, Taunton and Attleboro. We also provide Adult Protective Services and Personal Care Attendants in the Greater New Bedford Area. We do both information and referral as well as program care.
What makes it easier for the senior caregiver is if they plan for the aging process. It’s important to be proactive about your health care while your health is good. There are some very practical steps you can take. Make sure you have a will and a health care proxy. Have a conversation with your spouse and adult children about what they want if something happens. Do they want to go to an assisted living facility? Do they want to go to a nursing home or do they want to live at home at all costs? It may not happen but you need to know their wishes. They may even want to put it in writing, in case both of you get ill.
From the Caregiver’s checklist on Bristol Elder Services website:
- Seek out other caregivers for support and guidance.
- Ask for assistance and accept assistance when offered. Suggest specific things people can do to help out.
- Remember to assist your loved one in remaining independent with the tasks s/he can do.
- You don’t have to do everything for your loved one. Let others help.
- Acknowledge your hardships: caregiving is not easy. Allow yourself room to make mistakes and learn new techniques.
- Watch for signs of stress or depression (in yourself). Seek assistance from a support group, counselor, or your physician. It is important to stay healthy.
- Contact local agencies that offer assistance and support to you and your loved one.
- Acknowledge changes and losses in your life and allow time to adjust. Take time to make new plans and dreams.
Good advice indeed.