Caring For The Caregivers
Options for assistance and management when you provide full-time help to a loved one
Care for the elderly
Linda Walsh of Poquoson was once a highly successful real estate agent, but all that changed when her father died. Her mother had both multiple sclerosis and a brain disease with symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s, requiring around-the-clock care and attention. So Walsh put her career on hold and moved her mother into her house so she could take care of her.
“Part of the problem of being a caregiver,” Walsh says, “is that you’re very conflicted because you love and care very much for the person that you are caring for and you hate to see them go through what they’re going through. On the other hand, you’re missing out on having a life. You have to give up your career, and it’s very difficult. I was really at my peak earning years, and I was a pretty successful realtor. For nine years I stayed home with her and took care of her until the last three months of her life.”
Walsh’s situation has become the norm in caring for the elderly. According to the Association on Aging, family members are the primary providers of long-term care for the elderly and disabled. More than 44 million people in the United States are informal caregivers, providing unpaid help to loved ones who have at least one limitation on their activities of daily living.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST
Major medical insurance will often cover many of the expenses associated with long-term care, but there are often caps and term limits. In Walsh’s case, her mother’s insurance provided in-home nursing for a couple of years before the allowable coverage ran out.
“I used the opportunity for the time that I had a nurse here to join a gym and get stronger and fitter and healthier,” she says. “Working out really helps you deal with stress. But it also helps you be able to handle them better because you’re stronger.”
During the nine years Walsh was a caregiver, her mother regressed to the point she needed to be cared for like a baby. Walsh had to dress her, bathe her, feed her, all of which required physical strength and stamina. More than that, it required love and fortitude.
“You lose the person you loved,” she says. “The body is still there, but in the case of somebody whose mind is going the person you knew is not in that body anymore. It’s just a shell, and it’s very difficult emotionally.”
According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study, family caregivers suffer from depression at more than twice the rate of their peers. Not only do these depressive symptoms have the ability to incapacitate someone, but the disease itself increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, leading to premature aging and a higher mortality rate among caregivers than in the general public. Unfortunately, many caregivers don’t recognize their lowered energy levels and negative outlooks as more than just the accompanying baggage that goes with the territory of caring for a loved one. But if caregivers wish to provide effective long-term care for their loved ones, they first take care of themselves.
To help cope with the emotional and physical strain of caregiving, the federal government created the National Caregiver Support Program. The program calls for all states to provide services for family caregivers to include training, counseling and respite care.
Respite care, which is covered by most forms of long-term insurance, essentially provides a short-term replacement caregiver so that the long-term caregiver can get a much-needed break.
If you are planning to take a vacation, you can avoid problems that might crop up in your absence by involving your loved one in your plan. If a skilled nurse is not required, confer with your loved one to figure out who should fill in for you while you’re gone. Leave behind a list for the replacement caregiver of daily tasks, medications and timetables.
During the nine years of her mother’s residency, Walsh took only one vacation. She did, however, employ a respite caregiver for four hours every week. That weekly break gave her time to run errands or simply relax without guilt. You can hardly enjoy going to a movie or out to eat with friends when the whole time you’re worrying about what might be going wrong at home.
PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly), a state-sponsored program that acts as a full-service healthcare provider for incapacitated individuals living at home, includes respite as part of the care offered in their program. In general, they try to offer respite care equaling seven days’ worth of care, but each situation is different, and they fit plans to meet specific needs.
“If the loved one being cared for can be left alone at night,” says Donna Fitzgerald, the marketing manager for Peninsula PACE, “we can add extra homecare hours while [the caregiver] is away to have somebody else maybe go over and put them in bed. Or, if there is no other option or other family member, we can place them in one of our Riverside facilities or one of the facilities that we contract with. We’ll take their loved ones to the Gardens at Warwick Forest or Commonwealth Assisted Living, and their caregiver can go on vacation. We also have situations where somebody with dementia is going through a certain timeframe with their disease where [the caregiver] needs some extra help. So we’ve put people on quarterly respite where we’ll take them for a weekend and we’ll place them in one of our facilities.”
Though not usually covered by insurance, adult daycare is another option to consider as a means of giving you, the caregiver, time off during the week. There are many adult daycare centers throughout Coastal Virginia. Additionally, certain organizations, such as Visiting Angels (800-365-4189 or www.VisitingAngels.com) and Care in Homes (888-413-0880 or www.CareInHomes.com), can send individuals to your home to provide personal care for the elderly.
Editor’s Note: Advice on Eldercare is a yearlong series of articles dealing with caring for again parents and relatives.