Keeping Caregivers Healthy

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Caregiver visiting an older adult.

Looking back, Jan Oian now sees the signs she missed of her husband’s changing health condition. Stan would lose his train of thought, and Jan would finish sentences for him. When Stan was driving, he would miss turns on common routes home. Eventually, Stan was diagnosed with early dementia.

Nationwide, 91% of caregiving is provided by family members. Jan is now caring around the clock for her husband of 63 years and appreciates the trained caregiver from Lutheran Social Service, Mary Beth Simmer, who offers her four-hour breaks each week to rest or run errands.

Mary Beth brings her dog, Molly, with her on visits with Stan, who had an instant connection with his four-legged friend.

“When I leave, I hope that I've made his day a little brighter and that he's had a little fun, because people with Alzheimer's and dementia live in the here and now,” said Mary Beth.

Without support, caregivers can quickly wear out and can find themselves entering nursing care at the same time or even before their loved one.

“It can be very hard,” Jan shared. “You like to think you're really handling it just great and then all of a sudden you have that day when you either want to scream or cry. If you have somebody you can talk to, that's very helpful.”

While Stan attends “Morning Out” – a group setting for adults – Jan attends a caregiver support group.

“Accepting help is very difficult for most of us, but I’ve learned to say ‘thank you’ when some offers to bring a meal or run an errand for me,” she said.

Besides helping caregivers maintain their quality of life, caregiver support is cost effective: Avoiding a one-percent decrease in caregiving support by family members represents a public savings of $30 million.

A grant from the Dakota Medical Foundation is now helping Lutheran Social Service reach caregivers in isolated, rural areas with Apple iPads and Skype video technology. Caregivers have used their iPads to check on their loved ones while they are at work, watch a grandchild’s soccer game, or access caregiver education courses through Lutheran Social Service.

As a trained volunteer, Mary Beth is also taking good notes.

“I wanted to learn how to caregive because my sister has a lot of medical issues, and I know one day I will be her caregiver,” she said. “Now, I can pay it forward a little bit, because someday I’m going to need help from an organization like LSS as well.”