Family caregivers can easily get overwhelmed, but there is help available through support groups and agencies designed to help with caregiving.
“Unfortunately, we get a lot of calls from caregivers who are in a crisis," said Dawn Gartman, aging specialist for the Family Caregiver Support Program at Centralina Area Agency on Aging in North Carolina. She encourages people to seek help before a crisis arises.
Gartman’s program, which covers nine Charlotte, N.C.-area counties, offers support groups, respite care and six-week courses that teach caregivers how to manage stress, which can lower resistance to disease and lead to depression and burnout.
Classes help people recognize how they deal with stress, what causes them stress, and how to be assertive when asking for help to alleviate stress, Gartman said.
Caregivers are taught to “recognize your own limitations and that you’re doing the best you can do, and you need to ask for help," she said. They also learn relaxation techniques and the importance of taking time for themselves.
Caregivers also need to know when to hire outside help.
Roberta Farnum owns Home Instead Senior Care in Mecklenburg County, N.C., which provides in-home aides and certified nurse assistants for $17 to $21 an hour. It’s just one of many such companies that can provide in-home assistance, which is often covered by long-term care insurance.
Help ranges from companionship and preparing light meals to doing laundry and housekeeping. In-home aides also provide personal care, such as help with bathing and dressing, or respite care so unpaid caregivers can get a break.
“Just having somebody come in to relieve you ... so that you can take off for a period of time ... just a little bit can really help," Farnum said.
Like Gartman, Farnum encouraged families to seek out support groups in their communities and investigate benefits offered by employers, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, before a crisis arises.
Farnum speaks from personal experience. Her 94-year-old mother-in-law lives with her and her husband. She’s in fairly good health, with no dementia. But she had a hip replacement a year and a half ago and needed rehabilitation, which resulted a 60-day stay in a nursing home.
“We have a lot of help from our caregivers who are there with her five days a week ... But I realized I was having insomnia, and work was taking a back seat. And I am someone with resources. So I know how hard this can be."
— Karen Garloch, The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer