Written by Christine Hustedde, chief operating officer at Aging Ahead
According to research by AARP Public Policy Institute, there were approximately 792,000 caregivers in Missouri in 2013 providing unpaid care for an adult, valued at an estimated $8 billion. Nationally, unpaid caregiving was valued at $470 billion. This is more than the worth of Coca-Cola and Walmart combined.
While it can be rewarding caring for loved one, caregiving also can come with physical, financial, and emotional challenges. Of particular concern is the struggle of the growing “sandwich” generation. This group is still raising their children while also caring for their aging parents or other older adults close to them, in effect “sandwiched” between the two groups.
Aging Ahead is the Area Agency on Aging dedicated to serving adults age 60+ and their caregivers in St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson, and Franklin Counties. Here are five tips we suggest to help alleviate potential challenges of caregiving.
Tip 1: Educate Yourself and Know Your Supports
Articles, videos, podcasts, support groups, and forums are all available online and can be an accessible option for caregivers unable to get away from home. For example, the Family Caregiver Alliance provides a wealth of information from tips on bathing someone with dementia to meditation exercises for caregivers. AARP’s Family Caregiving page offers a variety of guides and articles. If you would like a chance to talk with others in similar situations, classes can be another great opportunity. For example, St. Louis Community College often offers classes through their Continuing Education program. Local hospitals and home health organizations are another source for classes, such as this series at Missouri Baptist.
Resources for services include your local Center for Independent Living (CIL). CILs are nonprofit agencies that support people living with disabilities. Paraquad serves individuals living in St. Louis and can provide assistive technology, information and referral, and has a Health & Wellness Center with accessible equipment. Disease-specific organizations often have services and supports for caregivers. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association has a Caregiver Respite Fund to financially assist caregivers of adults with dementia with respite, equipment, or legal services.
Last, but not least, Area Agencies on Aging (AAA’s), like Aging Ahead, are valuable resources. AAA’s were established with the Older Americans Act. There is an AAA for every area of the United States and although independently run, all are required to provide the same core services. Aging Ahead delivers several thousand home delivered meals daily from our senior centers. We have an information and referral line where you can speak with knowledgeable professionals for personalized information. We also offer a Family Caregiver Support Program for full time caregivers of older adults. Through this program, there is funding for respite services, durable medical equipment, minor home modifications, and nutritional/incontinence supplies.
Tip 2: Take Care of Yourself So You Can Care for Your Loved One
Caregivers frequently forget to put themselves first. It can be difficult to acknowledge your own needs when your life begins to revolve around someone else’s. Often a predictor of nursing home placement isn’t the functional needs of the person receiving the care, it’s the collapse of the caregiver. Learning proper transfer techniques, using durable medical equipment, and modifying homes ensures the safety of the caregiver and care receiver. The Safe At Home series, produced by the Family Caregiver Alliance, are instructional videos for caregivers to learn how to set up a safe home environment for those you are caring for.
Tip 3: Learn About Care Options
As our culture recognizes the importance of receiving care in the least restrictive environment, more options become available. In-home support or adult day care services can give a caregiver a much-needed break. Knowing the difference between various levels of care, such as assisted living vs. skilled nursing, also gives people the power to choose the best fit for their situation. The Alzheimer’s Association breaks down different care options and describes what services are offered by each. VOYCE is the local long-term care ombudsman, meaning they advocate and support people needing or already receiving long term care services. Their VOYCEconnect helpline is a free service for those needing help finding long-term care.
Tip 4: Understand Insurance Coverage and Its Limitations
It can be difficult to navigate the world of health insurance. Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Benefits, private coverage, and the marketplace all have their own unique qualifications and limits. Before choosing the best care options, it is important to research what your insurance does and does not cover. The Administration on Aging has put together an informative website that reviews what long term care services are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans benefits.
Tip 5: Utilize Assistance Programs
Caregiving can be an expensive undertaking. Benefits programs at the state and federal levels are available to help lessen the financial burden. It may be worthwhile for caregivers to consider prescription assistance program, such as Social Security’s Extra Help, or energy assistance such as LIHEAP. There is even a Shared Tax Credit program managed by the state for certain qualifying caregivers.
For more information about these tips or additional resources, please contact us at Aging Ahead and speak with a Community Options Specialist: 800-243-6060. If you are not in our service region, you can find the AAA that serves you on the National Association for Area Agencies on Aging website.
Editors note: If you are a Washington University employee, you can also contact Guidance Resources for assistance and attend Elder Care Seminars hosted by Human Resources throughout the year.