Aging well: Conference is 'one-stop shopping' for caregivers

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Caregiver conference

The Caregiver's Toolbox Conference is from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. Guests will speak about elder law, preventing senior exploitation and Alzheimer's disease. Information about caregiver resources such as adult day services and veterans' services also will be available.

The free event includes a light breakfast, lunch and door prizes. RSVP as soon as possible to Shelley Orrell, 879-0633.

An additional conference is June 26 in Glenwood Springs. For more information, call Nancy McStay at 824-5646.

Caregiver resources

• Northwest Colorado Options for Long-term Care provides caregivers financial assistance for respite care and/or equipment. Eligibility depends on age and patients' cognitive and physical limitations. Services are available to families (including grandparents who are primary caregivers of grandchildren) in Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties. For more information, call Nancy McStay at 824-5646.

• The Haven Adult Day Center in Hayden now is accepting elderly and/or disabled adult clients for half- and full-day programs Mondays through Fridays. Reservations can be made on an ongoing basis or as caregiver respite is needed. For information, call Diane Girty at 875-1891.

• Caregivers interested in participating in a caregiver support group at The Haven should call Karen Burley at 875-1888.

• A support group for caregivers and family members of people with Alzheimer's disease meets monthly in Steamboat Springs. For more information, call Barbara Bronner at 879-8942.

• The Routt County Council on Aging provides congregate meals, Meals on Wheels and activities in several communities and is a point of reference for learning about programs for caregivers and older adults. For more information, call Shelley Orrell at 879-0633.

• The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association offers a variety of services for caregivers and older adults. For information about home health visits, call 879-1632. For information about Aging Well programs, including free exercise classes for all abilities, all-day wellness programs and chronic disease management workshops, call 871-7676.

Deciding the best care and living situation for an elderly loved one can be one of the most difficult decisions a family makes.

Finances and the elderly person's health and desires are among considerations that often can land a spouse, adult child or family member in a role he or she never planned for - that of primary caregiver.

Caregiving can involve immense physical and emotional challenges that, particularly in rural areas, are exacerbated by sparse resources and support. Overwhelmed, many caregivers have little time or energy to seek out services that do exist.

"You don't research something like that ahead of time thinking, 'Someday, I'm going to be a caregiver,' : you just don't know where to turn," explained Shelly Orrell, director of the Routt County Council on Aging.

Thankfully, the horizon is brighter for caregivers in Northwest Colorado where more and more resources and support programs are available, including affordable respite and adult day services, legal aid and support groups providing education and camaraderie.

The Caregiver's Toolbox Conference is a convenient opportunity for caregivers and community members to learn about organizations and programs helping local caregivers cope and plan for the complexities of caring for an aging and ailing loved one.

The free event is Wednesday at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

"We're hoping it will be one-stop shopping for people in a caregiver role," said Nancy McStay, program manager for Northwest Colorado Options for Long-term Care, which is sponsoring the event with the Routt County Council on Aging.

The conference will feature several guest speakers, including Emily Conner, regional director of the Alzheimer's Association; Cary Steven Johnson, an expert on preventing and recognizing exploitation of older adults; and Kathleen Negri, an elder law attorney with first-hand caregiving experience.

Finding balance

Karen Gibson, of Craig, has cared for her 90-year-old father-in-law for about two years. She has experience as a home health nurse, but even that didn't fully prepare her for caregiving challenges.

Although her father-in-law is fairly independent, Gibson shuttles him to and from doctors' appointments and finds comfortable opportunities for him to socialize and enjoy activities outside the home. She also helps him with some daily tasks such as eating, which is almost always a struggle.

Her father-in-law's constant resistance, and her subsequent frustration, has taken a toll on Gibson emotionally.

"We think our role as caregivers is reflected in how good our care is," Gibson said. "So when they don't cooperate, it sort of reflects on what sort of care we're giving them."

It helps that she has remained focused on her work - she is a part-time pastor at United Methodist Church - and dedicates time for herself, such as attending an early morning exercise class.

Gibson credits community programs for helping her balance her needs with her father-in-law's health and social needs.

"Caregiver assistance is one of the bright and shining lights out there," she said.

Gibson recently began working with Northwest Colorado Options for Long-term Care, a local organization sponsored by our regional Area Agency on Aging, which helps caregivers pay for respite care and/or obtain equipment, such as shower chairs, that make their jobs easier.

Respite care and home health aids have allowed Gibson, whose husband works out-of-town during the week, to spend more time away from home pursing work and interests.

Other helpful programs include Meals on Wheels, community transportation for older adults and Aging Well programs provided by the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

Gibson's father-in-law attends an Aging Well balance class at Sunset Meadows every week, and together they also attend Wellness Wednesdays, a day of healthy aging activities, including lunch and guest speakers, at the American Legion.

"It's a reason, a purpose, for getting out of the house," she said.

Support is critical

The more resources a person accesses, the easier his or her role as caregiver will be.

"They might be able to make it physically, but they need mental health breaks," McStay said. "It's very tedious; it's very time consuming and very rough."

Respite services, which provide part- or full-day care for elderly and/or disabled adults in the home or in an adult day center, are a critical option for families who, for various reasons, are unable to send their loved ones to long-term living facilities.

Adult day programs, which fulfill clients' essential needs such as meals, bathing, health monitoring and engaging activities, are common in urban areas.

Local residents now have access to this important resource: The first adult day center in the region - The Haven Adult Day Center in Hayden - is accepting clients. Another program is planned in the Rollingstone Respite House, currently under construction in Steamboat Springs.

Caregivers' needs are becoming a more and more prominent target of discussion and resources. But before caregivers can seek and access support, they must be open to help.

The caregiver conference Wednesday is a convenient and comfortable setting for caregivers to explore both their openness to help and the types of help available.

"Hopefully it will encourage these people to find support," McStay said.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org or 871-7606. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and better. For more information or to view past articles, log onto www.agingwelltoday.com.

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