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(BPT) - When David Bowen’s father fell taking out the trash in 2016, it set in motion a series of health challenges the family is still battling together. Bowen, 62, hired a part-time professional caregiver to assist his father along with his mother, who was battling Alzheimer’s, but he found himself serving as a caregiver much of the time, too.
“I’d go by [their home] after work three days a week; we called it the ‘40-mile triangle’ — 40 miles to work, 40 miles to their house, then 40 miles back home,” Bowen said. “I’d stop and get dinner on the way, sit and visit, redress dad’s wounds and humor mom, then head for home.”
Caregivers are the unsung heroes of the health care system. The responsibility can mean increased stress and anxiety, which can affect family dynamics, nutrition habits, physical fitness and overall well-being. Many people take unpaid leave from their jobs, reduce work hours, change careers or quit altogether to care for an aging loved one.
The 2018 Northwestern Mutual C.A.R.E. Study revealed that two of three caregivers reduce their living expenses to pay for the medical and practical needs of their loved ones, yet nearly half of future caregivers said they have made no financial plans to prepare.
While this can be challenging, caregivers take immense pride in this important role, and most wouldn’t trade the opportunity. In fact, a recent Merrill Lynch-Age Wave study found that 91 percent of caregivers feel grateful to care for someone and 77 percent would do it again.
Regardless of what leads someone to assume the role of caregiver, and whether they do so willingly, out of a sense of obligation or both, one thing is certain: Caregivers need and deserve support as they navigate a demanding, emotional and critical responsibility. The good news is there are resources and services that can help make life as a caregiver a bit easier.
* The National Family Caregiver Support Program offers medical, emotional, financial and legal advice and training to adult family members who provide in-home and community care for people aged 60 or older and to people older than 55 who care for children under 18.
* AARP’s Caregiver Resource Center offers guides for first-time caregivers, families and those who care for a loved one at home. These include financial and legal considerations and advice on how to maintain caregiver-life balance.
* While the Administration for Community Living doesn’t work directly with individuals, it can be a good place for a caregiver to start on the circuitous path to financial support. The organization provides funds to help older adults and people with disabilities live where they choose to for as long as they can, and has provided billions of dollars to programs in every state.
* UnitedHealthcare proactively addresses caregiver needs by sharing relevant information and resources. Its Solutions for Caregivers program, for example, is a website for eligible members to get advice from medical professionals, financial advisers and experienced care managers; take advantage of discounted products and services; and access educational resources. Non-members can register as guests and check out the comprehensive directory of organizations that focus on issues including Parkinson’s disease, substance abuse, blindness, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. UnitedHealthcare also offers free monthly caregiver education calls, open to the public.
* The National Alliance for Caregiving focuses on caregiving research, innovation and technology, state and local caregiving coalitions, and international caring. It is working to build a global network of caregiver support organizations.
* The Caregiver Action Network (CAN) serves a broad spectrum of family caregivers, ranging from parents of children with special needs, to families and friends of wounded soldiers, to adult children caring for aging parents. Aiming to promote resourcefulness and respect for the more than 90 million family caregivers across the country, CAN provides free education, peer support and resources.
* The Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, provides a search tool that allows visitors to search by topic and location for services pertaining to older adults and their families.
“Dad and I, we’re trying to put a new life together for him, and it’s tough,” said Bowen. “But support from all over has kept me on my feet and moving forward. Amid all the challenges, I am grateful for that.”