If you’re a primary caregiver of an older adult, don’t wait to get help

When Kathryn’s father turned 84, he needed help remaining independent at home. So Kathryn assisted with housework and cleaning; she raked leaves and shoveled snow, too. When her dad had doctor appointments, Kathryn usually drove him.

In time, Kathryn grew weary because she also had a full-time job and a family.

“At one point, Dad was occupying all of my time, taking all of my energy, and I just couldn’t do it. It was impossible for me to take care of Dad and juggle the rest of my responsibilities,” she said.

Sylvia grew weary caregiving for her husband. He couldn’t be left alone, so she spent long, isolating days at home, unable to get out much for socialization to refresh her own state of mind.

John ended up in a similar role as a caregiver for his mother, who suffered from dementia and other medical challenges. John’s own health became compromised when he grew exhausted. He persevered because he thought there were no other options.

But there are options.

Accepting help 

Many thousands of Minnesotans are serving as the primary caregivers of older adults in their lives. And most are reluctant to acknowledge the stress they feel as they battle fatigue, trouble sleeping, depression and stress-related weight gain or loss.

What to do?

Kathryn, Sylvia and John were able to receive helpful support from Senior Community Services, a Minnetonka-based nonprofit organization that coordinates and provides programs to help older adults and their caregivers.

Support for Kathryn, Sylvia and John included things like home maintenance help, fellowship at senior centers, care-coordination support from experienced social workers and help with managing ongoing caregiving tasks, thanks to family and friends.

Sharing the load

Kathryn said Senior Community Services’ CareNextion.org website became a new crucial tool for managing caregiving in her life, which included a multi-generational family with members as far away as Japan.

“We got our extended family signed up on the care team and created a calendar of tasks,” she said. “Everyone helped out, which eased the burden on me.”

With CareNextion, Kathryn could update everyone at once — averting the time-sapping chore of contacting relatives individually by phone or email.

“CareNextion was the one place they could go to see: ‘What’s going on with Dad?’” she said. “It was so hard before, and it became so easy after we discovered CareNextion.”

Sylvia, meanwhile, found great value in the support groups at her local senior center.

“I was able to talk with other caregivers which helped me know I was not alone,” she said. “And my husband came along, too, enjoying the activities.”

John and his mother found tremendous support from the Senior Outreach and Caregiver Services program.

“A staff member visited us and she knew more than any other person we’d met,” he said. “She helped us find the best care for Mom. I couldn’t recommend Senior Community Services any more highly because of what they’ve given us. It eased a huge burden for me.”

Rest and run errands

Caregivers must take care of themselves to avoid caregiver fatigue or burnout. Make time for yourself; a walk or time spent reading can help restore you.

Consider an adult-day program for your older loved one. These programs offer a place for seniors in need of caregiving to socialize and get medical care and other services. Caregivers can use the down time to rest or run errands.

In the end, it pays to do a reality check of your situation — and be prepared to seek out supportive services that can help ease the caregiving burden.

Deb Taylor is CEO of Senior Community Services and its Reimagine Aging Institute, a nonprofit organization that advocates for older adults and helps seniors and caregivers maintain their independence through free or low-cost services. Learn more at seniorcommunity.org.