Adding Life To Years

Creating a Community that Cares for Caregivers

 Northern Nevada is coming of age. Our state, county, and city governments, companies, and philanthropic foundations are identifying and developing services and solutions to meet the tremendous needs that our elders have. The Community Foundation of Northern Nevada has dedicated a major imitative to serve our elders and their families – The Caregiver Support Initiative.

The Community Foundation in collaboration with many organizations throughout Washoe County have conducted community focus groups and many discussion groups around elder caregiving. They found that one of the major issues with caregivers serving their elders is lack of information and knowledge of resources within the community. So the Community Foundation is producing a guidebook for the basics of beginning care for seniors and a web site that will enable caregivers to access information about services throughout the community. This is a great beginning step and will provide tremendous help to those caregivers. What we need next is to create a community that cares for caregivers.

In general family caregivers view their work as a small thing within the larger world.  But the reality is that roughly 80% of all caregiving to elders is done by families and friends. So without family caregivers we would have no real long-term care system in the United States.  Family caregivers play perhaps the most critical role in the well-being of elders with care needs.  Literally – just as, or even more, important than doctors and nurses.

An impactful family caregiver support system offers a “no wrong door” approach to assisting caregivers.  Such an approach seeks out existing community assets and knits them together to develop a comprehensive system of care.  We can think of the approaches in buckets: community partnerships, supportive services, and education.

Community Partnerships: No one organization can provide all the services necessary to support caregivers.  Recent studies have found that there are at least 12 services that form the key to a successful caregiver network.  These include:

  • Caregiver assessments to determine care needs
  • Case management ensuring comprehensive and coordinated services
  • Homecare by volunteers and paid home care aides
  • Respite care
  • Home modification
  • Transportation
  • Meal preparation
  • Shopping
  • Care consultation (including on-the-spot expert advice to address specific issues such a behavioral problems)
  • Support groups led by professionals and experienced caregivers
  • Face-to-face as well as telephone evidence-based caregiver training sessions
  • Legal and financial planning

The essence of an effective caregiver support system is a partnership with organizations already providing valuable services to caregivers and their loved ones. Providers can be divided into eight different provider categories:

  • Caregiver Education and Training
  • Counseling and Support Groups
  • Food and Nutrition
  • Home Modification and Housing
  • Legal Services
  • Long-term and Respite Care Services
  • Transportation
  • Organizations such as communities of faith which have frequent contact with caregivers and older adults

Supportive Services: These services include ways to help caregivers themselves avoid isolation, anxiety, and depression such as:

  • Caregiver Cafés. Caregiver Cafés are “pop-up” support programs and information centers for caregivers. Cafés provide a warm environment for caregivers to relieve stress, have informal conversations with health care providers and other caregivers, and obtain helpful resources. Cafes can happen in libraries, coffee shops, churches, synagogues or any place accessible to the public.
  • Caregiver Salons, a periodic gathering of current caregivers in the home of an experienced, and perhaps now “unemployed” caregiver, where they can share their concerns with others and have access to information and training.

Education: Basic and simple information about how to caregive, use of community resources via the new guidebook and website of the Community Foundation, and how to take care of yourself.

Caregiving 101: Is a program that brings caregivers and health care professionals together in a relaxed setting to discuss common issues, share ideas and gain a better understanding of each other’s perspectives on caregiving.

There are many such courses for example the program offered by Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, using the name Caregiving 101 which covers the following topics:

  • Accessing and Developing Resources
  • Building Cooperative Relationships
  • Home Safety and Fall Prevention
  • Long-term Care Planning
  • Preventing and Solving Problems
  • Taking Care of Yourself
  • What it Means to be a Caregiver

Respite Care Training: Respite care allows caregivers to take a break from caring for their loved one and take time for themselves. Well organized Respite Care Training includes at least five general topics:

  • The important role of the family caregiver
  • Responsibilities and best practices for respite care volunteers
  • Home health and safety, including CPR
  • Recreational activities to engage older adults, including those with dementia
  • Community resources for older adults

Providers such as Johns Hopkins Bayview, Parker Geriatric Services of New York, Wellmed Foundation of San Antonio, REAL Services of South Bend Indiana, and many others offer replicatable programs. So let’s pool together our resources and develop a community that cares for caregivers. What better way to “add life to years” for our elders and their caregivers.

Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is Founder and CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.

On May 19th, 2017, posted in: Adding Life To Years by
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