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College of Human Ecology

K-State specialist gives tips for caregivers

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

MANHATTAN, Kan. - In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 80 percent of older adults have a chronic illness such as hypertension or diabetes, said Deb Sellers, Kansas State University Research and Extension specialist on adult development and aging.

Thanks to advances in medical care, people with a chronic illness often can live with and manage the illness successfully and not need a nursing home or assisted living, she said.

Many will, however, need a caregiver, Sellers said. Such caregiving, usually provided by a family member or friends who live nearby, may require a few hours a week or month initially and increase as the illness progresses.

The National Family Caregivers Association reported that, in 2004 in Kansas, a state in which 13.3 percent of the population is age 65 and older, caregivers provided about 286 million hours of care, Sellers said.

Averaging the minimum wage in 2004 ($5.15 per hour) and national average for home health aids ($14.68 per hour) to determine a standard wage for caregivers ($9.92 per hour) translates Kansas´ caregivers´ time into an equivalent economic value of $2.8 billion.

That figure does not include the personal cost to the caregiver, Sellers said.

Women, who absorb about 60 percent of the caregiving responsibilities, often have to take time off from work. In some cases, they may have to quit their job, said Sellers, who noted that the cost of the lost wages, benefits, and potential retirement savings add up.

Caregiving also adds stress for the caregiver and his or her family, she said. About 40 percent of the women who serve as caregivers have children, who may, for example, feel shortchanged by their parents´ responsibilities as caregivers.

So, how can a caregiver balance caregiving with other responsibilities, such as work and family?

For the caregiver, Sellers suggests:

* Invest time in learning about the illness and what to expect as it progresses.

* Make a list of daily, weekly and monthly caregiving tasks, and update the care plan as the disease progresses.

* Check potential healthcare benefits and local agencies that provide in-home medical care and services. Such resources typically include physicians and healthcare providers; the local area agency on aging; religious and community organizations, and a national organization called the ElderCare Locator (www.eldercare.gov) at 1-800-677-1116.

* Keep the family (and those who need to know) up to date.

* Don´t think you need to go it alone. Family and friends who live nearby may seem the logical choice for some tasks, but others who may not live in the area still can contribute time paying bills or doing paperwork, money for hiring a lawn or housecleaning service, or respite care to give the caregiver time off.

* Reserve time for self - and normal activities, as much as possible.

For those who are not the designated caregiver, but who know of a family member or friend who is either a care recipient or caregiver, Sellers suggests:

* Offer to help - caregivers typically respond to an offer of a Friday afternoon off or relief for a specific task, such as taking a parent to a checkup, than a more general "I can help you some time."

* If not currently part of a caregiving network for a family member or friend, volunteer with a local organization that provides services to caregivers.

"Quality of life is an issue for the care recipient and the caregiver," Sellers said. "While the care recipient is typically the focus, failure to assist the caregiver may result in worse physical health and increase her vulnerability to illness."

More information on caregiving and the aging process is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices or on the Extension Web site: www.oznet.ksu.edu.

***To look at other news releases, check out our web page at http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/news/

This article was posted on Tuesday, November 20, 2007, and is filed under College News.