Month of the caregiver

Caregiving has its own month, and for good reason. It plays a hugely important and frequently unsung role in the fabric of contemporary family life.

Here are ”10 Things You Need to Know about Caregiving,” from Disability Connection newsletter:

1. November Is National Family Caregivers Month. Caregivers play an important role in the lives of their family members, friends or neighbors who have disabilities, are sick and/or elderly. A 2009 survey released by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that one in four American families – about 22 million households – care for someone else (age 50 or older).

According to a fact sheet from the Family Caregiver Alliance:

  • 65.7 million people, roughly 29 percent of the U.S. adult population, are caregivers;
  • Family caregivers provide an estimated $450 billion worth of uncompensated care      to loved ones annually;
  • More women (66 percent) than men are caregivers, and the average age of a female caregiver is 48;
  • One-third (34 percent) of caregivers help two or more people; and
  • Nine out of 10 caregivers of veterans are female, and 70 percent provide care to their spouse or partner.

2. Medicare is an important factor to consider when parents, grandparents, relatives or friends need to make crucial health care decisions. Medicare.gov provides several fact sheets for caregivers with questions and answers on topics such as coverage for health services, applying for Medicare and how to submit claims. The site also offers a Caregiver Resource Kit. Additional information about Medicare and Caregivers is available on the National Institutes of Health Senior Health website. Topics include planning for medical care, managing chronic illness, understanding Medicare billing and terms every caregiver needs to know.

3. Respite Care, such as adult day care or other community programs, provides temporary relief to families caring for people with disabilities, chronic or terminal illnesses and the elderly. Read the guide, The ABCs of Respite, to learn about types of respite, how to choose a program or provider and how to pay for the service. The National Respite Locator Service, provided by the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center, helps parents, family caregivers and professionals find respite services in their community. You can also use the Eldercare Locator to view community services for older adults and their families by topic or location.

4. Caregiver Stress can take many forms such as frustration, guilt, loneliness and exhaustion. Studies show that long-term caregiving can be physically and emotionally draining and is often associated with an increased risk for illness. Get answers to frequently asked questions, as well as tips on how to prevent and relieve stress with this Caregiver Stress fact sheet from WomensHealth.gov. The Alzheimer’s Association’s Caregiver Stress Check tool can help you determine your level of stress and recommend helpful resources. Both sites suggest that caregivers set realistic goals when determining day-to-day priorities, turn to others for help with tasks and set aside time for themselves each day, even if only for an hour or two.

5. Getting Paid to Be a Caregiver is a complex subject. While some states have programs that pay family members to be caregivers, they vary state-to-state, and most have strict eligibility and financial requirements for recipients. Your local Medicaid office is a good place to start for information about what is available in your state. If you are caring for a veteran, you should go to the VA Caregiver Support website to learn about additional assistance for which you may be eligible. Other options to consider are long-term care insurance, caregiver contracts and flexible work arrangements that allow you to work from home while taking care of an ill or elderly loved one. Visit the Family Caregiver Alliance website for additional information on getting paid as a family caregiver. You may also enjoy reading the post, Can Full-Time Family Caregivers Get Paid, on Disability.Blog, which contains valuable information and resources.

6. Financial Caregiving. Besides attending to the physical and emotional needs of an ill or elderly loved one, caregivers often handle financial responsibilities, as well. The typical caregiver helps with or arranges bill paying, deposits, insurance and benefit claims, savings and investment decisions, housing, tax preparation and countless other financial duties. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently published four guides entitled, Managing Someone Else’s Money, for powers of attorney, court-appointed guardians, trustees and government fiduciaries. Each provides tips and resources to help financial caregivers carry out their duties. AARP also offers a planning guide to help families assess the housing, financial, personal care and transportation needs of their loved ones.

7. A Free Online Workshop for Caregivers of Veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a free six-week online workshop, Building Better Caregivers™, for family caregivers of veterans. Participants log on for two hours each week to review lessons, exchange ideas with others and access tools. The workshop addresses specific needs of caregivers who help veterans with dementia, memory problems, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder or any other serious injury or illness. The program, developed at Stanford University, has been recognized for its ability to reduce stress and depression, as well as increase the overall well-being of caregivers. If you are interested in participating, you should contact a Caregiver Support Coordinator at your local VA Medical Center. Visit www.caregiver.va.gov and enter your ZIP code to find one near you.

8. Hiring In-Home Help. There may be times when you need outside professional support to help care for an ill or elderly loved one at home. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers has helpful guidelines for hiring in-home caregivers, which include working with a reputable agency, checking references, completing background checks and interviewing potential candidates, among others. The AARP article, Hiring a Home Care Worker, contains practical advice on finding candidates, considering applicants and conducting an interview. The National Caregivers Library provides a Needs Assessment Worksheet to help you determine the level of support you need when hiring an in-home caregiver.

9. Online Caregiver Support. Being a caregiver can be an isolating experience. However, there are many online resources available for caregivers, such as support groups, educational modules and review sites. The Family Caregivers Online website offers 15 free educational modules on topics such as Behavior and Emotions of Aging, Safety and Independence and End of Life Issues. Caregiver Reviews gives free, unbiased views on products, services and resources. Subjects covered include caregiver blogs and websites, home monitoring products, medication reminders and pill dispensers and The Alzheimer’s Reading Room. Caregivers can sign up for free email alerts on new reviews, products, coupon deals and discounts. In addition, the following organizations offer online support groups, some of which are moderated: Family Caregiver Alliance; the Alzheimer’s Association’s ALZ Connected; AgingCare.com; and Caring.com.

10. Psychological Impact. Conversations about whether your elderly parents are capable of continuing to live independently, drive, care for each other, etc., can be difficult but necessary as they age. Fortunately, there are some helpful publications that offer guidance on making these conversations productive. Easter Seals offers a free publication, Loving Conversations, to help you determine the best choices regarding health care, living arrangements, legal issues and more for your aging loved ones. A Caring.com article, How to Talk to the Elderly about Tough Family Issues, also gives an overview of the conflicting life stages of elderly parents and their middle aged children, as well as pointers on being an effective communicator and listener when discussing difficult issues, such as a parent giving up their driver’s license and moving to an assisted living or nursing home facility.

Visit Disability.gov for additional resources on caregiving. You can also stay connected to that website through Facebook, Twitter and Disability.Blog.

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Charitable nonprofit NDAD’s assistance for people with disabilities and health challenges can include attendant care. You, or someone you know who really can use help, may qualify. Find out more by calling (800) 532-NDAD.

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