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Caring for the Caregiver

The man in this photo might need a caregiver's help, or he could be the primary caregiver for a family member. Thousands of families open their homes to chronically ill and simply lonely family members. It's a gesture of love and commitment, but caregiving can bring emotional hardships as well as rewards. Even the most loving relatives can feel burned out after months or years of providing care in their homes.

In a typical scenario, an older relative reaches the point where she simply needs someone to be with her most of the day. A stroke, Alzheimer's, cancer, serious surgery, and other conditions may factor into the person's need. When recovery is relatively certain, it's not as difficult to take on and maintain a caregiver's duties. But looking at years of providing the most personal of services, a caretaker will need support from other family members, neighbors, and the community. The library owns many books for caregivers that have helpful suggestions on ways to cope better with difficult situations. Click here for a list of titles which may be reserved for pick up at a local branch.

Changing Family Roles

Sometimes there's the question of who will be the primary caregiver in a family. Statistically speaking, unless a spouse is ready and able, it's most likely to be a daughter who lives close by. She's probably part of the "sandwich generation," caught between raising a family of her own and providing care for an aging parent. What about the other brothers and sisters? If they give no help whatsoever, the caregiver will naturally resent them. One possible solution is to have an agreement as soon as the parent's circumstances have to change. If siblings live too far away to provide daily or weekly in-person help, they should be able to help with finances, whether for medication, food, or someone to come in and give their sib a few hours of well-deserved time off each week.

Finding Community Support

Support groups for families dealing with specific illnesses can be a lifesaver to the caregiver's peace of mind. In such a group, it's perfectly all right to air your frustrations with caregiving and ask questions which may improve your quality of life as well as your loved ones'. Your local library, hospital, or agency for the aging may be able to connect you to these groups and also give invaluable information on services, such as Meals-on-Wheels and special transportation, which can make your family's routine easier. Depending on several factors including age, degree of disability, and veteran status, additional services may be available.

Resources on Caregiving and Aging Issues Online

For Virginians

SeniorNavigator
Has a Caregiver Circle to help find local services, recommendations on how to take care of yourself, information about Alzheimer's and dementia, practical resources for home situations, and more.

Virginia Association of Area Agencies on Aging
"V4A's primary mission is to build the capacity of its members to help older persons to live with dignity and choices in their homes and communities for as long as possible, and to enhance elder rights."
Our local affiliate is the Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging. They provide many useful services to seniors in our community.

The Virginia Department for the Aging
Links to services, prescription assistance programs, and information on topics ranging from adult day care centers to personal safety.

The Virginia Lifespan Respite Voucher Program
"Created to provide reimbursement vouchers to home-based family caregivers for the cost of temporary, short-term respite care provided to their family members with disabilities (children and adults, including elderly persons)." Conditions apply. Funds are limited.

Nationwide

AARP: Caregiving
A guide for new caregivers, tips for long distance caregiving, recommendations for hiring a home health care worker, choosing an agency for in-home care, balancing work and caregiving, and more.

Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregiver Center
"You are not alone. Whether you need information about early-stage caregiving, middle-stage caregiving, or late-stage caregiving, the Alzheimer's Association is here to help."

Eldercare Locator
"The Eldercare Locator connects older Americans and their caregivers with sources of information on senior services. The service links those who need assistance with state and local area agencies on aging and community-based organizations that serve older adults and their caregivers."

Family Caregiver Alliance
A national organization that has a lot to offer caregivers: fact sheets, advice, newsletters, online support groups, personal stories, and information on public policies and research.

National Institute on Aging: Caregiving Publications
Order or view online (mostly) free publications of use to caregivers from the U.S. government on exercise, caregiving, home safety for Alzheimer's patients, and long-term care.