Take Care of Yourself: Resources for Caregivers

Posted on 01/23/20

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If Dr. Robert Lindsay has his way, Virginia’s “Welcome” signs would all read “Virginia is for Caregivers” instead of the famous “Virginia is for Lovers.” According to a 2015 survey, one in five Virginians serves as a caregiver in some capacity, and these numbers are likely to increase as the Baby Boomer population ages. And Dr. Lindsay, founder of the Lindsay Institute for Innovations in Caregiving, believes Virginia communities should do more to support those in caregiving roles.

Speaking at a Caregiver Support program sponsored by Senior Services of Alexandria with support from AARP on January 11, 2020, Dr. Lindsay, an energetic, fast-talking octogenarian, noted that many caregivers find themselves in this “unexpected career” with little or no planning or preparation. He believes we would all be better served if, along with routine CPR training, Caregiving 101 courses are also offered. To that end, the Lindsay Institute’s Caregiving Initiative strives to improve the wellness of family caregivers, including self-care, emotional stressors, and tough decisions, and Dr. Lindsay shared some his insight with the group.

All types of people are caregivers, not only spouses and adult children, but, increasingly young people under age 18 who find themselves in the position of caring for parents or grandparents. Persons needing care are not only the elderly, who see increases in disabilities during later years, but also younger people with disabilities who are cared for by aging parents or siblings.

Caregiving mostly falls to women, who typically have many other responsibilities, with Alzheimer’s disease being an exception, as it affects women more often than men, often forcing men into a caregiver role. Military spouses also often are forced into a special caregiving role, with little training or preparation to care for spouses returning from combat with physical, mental, and cognitive injuries, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Caregiving can be a tremendous stress, both economic and emotional. Caregiving can result in lost wages and depletion of savings by the caregiver. It also puts a strain on employers, who may not be able to keep positions open for caregivers who need lots of time off; finding replacements can be costly. Caregivers also seldom talk to their doctors about the stress and other physical issues they experience, often making conditions worse.

All caregivers need a chance to recharge their batteries, and Dr. Lindsay urges all caregivers to take time to take care of themselves. Most communities have support groups, which, given the absence of more formal training, often serves as the best way for caregivers to learn about their role. Caregivers also need to be knowledgeable about the condition of their patient, talking to the patient’s doctor. And caregivers shouldn’t forget to talk to their own doctor as well about their own physical or emotional issues.

Dr. Lindsay encourages caregivers to embrace innovative products and approaches that can help them and their patients, including new technology products such as bed alarms and GPS to help track patients who may wander. Products such as virtual reality and virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa can also help patients’ social well-being.

Other speakers provided information on a variety of community resources available to caregivers. AARP State President Carol Downs pointed out that AARP offers numerous online resources for caregivers at http://aarp.org/caregiving, including planning guides and an online support community. AARP also offers workshops, books, and webinars to assist caregivers.

Mitch Opalski from SYNERGY Homecare Services discussed the difference between home care, as offered by his company, and home health care, typically requiring medical care and offered by different agencies. Home care includes personal care, or assisting with activities of daily living; homemaker chores, such as light housekeeping, laundry, or errands; and companion care, including safety, social welfare, transportation, or helping the patient with medication.

While some home health care is covered by Medicare and Medicaid, home care is typically an out-of-pocket cost, ranging from $24-28 per hour or $280-300 per day for live-in care in the Northern Virginia area. He suggested obtaining a list of local agencies, such as through the Northern Virginia Sourcebook, that provide home care services and scheduling visits to find the best fit.

The benefits of home care to seniors is that it is flexible and helps reduce hospital stays, provides individual care that increases quality of life, helps the patient maintain independence, keeps the patient in a familiar environment, allows the patient to maintain connections and keep pets in a comfortable setting, and most importantly, reduces family caregiver burnout.

Lindsey Vajpeyi of Insight Memory Care Center discussed the challenges of caring for dementia patients and how these challenges can lead to caregiver confusion and burnout. She suggested caregivers search for specialized programs that meet the specific needs of the patient at different stages of dementia. For early stage dementia, programs that offer specific social activities can help patients reconnect with others. At mid-state, music and memory programs help increase the patient’s quality of life. All such programs assist caregivers by giving them a much-needed break.

One of the biggest issues facing seniors is loneliness, and Allegra Joffe explained how PRS CareRing, a reassurance phone-calling program, can benefit older adults by assuring they have an opportunity to speak to a live caller on a regular basis. The calls can check on patients for safety and remind them to take their medication, or they can be used for social contact. The calls can give caregivers peace of mind that their patient is receiving social interaction while they take a rest or deal with other responsibilities.

The City of Alexandria recently initiated a new program, Dementia Friendly Alexandria, designed to educate the community on how to identify and interact with people with dementia, Mary Lee Anderson, Executive Director of Senior Services of Alexandria, said that the initial focus is training first responders and faith communities, with the next target being the retail community. Those who undergo training are deemed “Dementia Champions.”

Attendees left the Caregiver Support Program better informed about the resources available that can help both them and their loved ones during their caregiver journey.

This story is provided by AARP Virginia. Visit the AARP Virginia page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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