When a loved one needs help, maybe more than usual after an illness or injury, where do you turn?
The family caregiver has resources and options. If the patient has been in a rehabilitation facility, usually the staff will offer training for the family when the loved one is about to return home.
Providence St. Mary Medical Center's Director of Public Affairs Kathleen Obenland said each situation is different. "It depends on the conditions. They get training before they go home. When they're discharged, if they have fairly intensive needs, the training will be assisted by the therapists and medical staff. The patient gets training as well. Some people need quite a bit. A patient with a hip transplant, they have a lot of things to be careful about. We have a family teaching day where each therapist covers specific things."
In-patient rehab supervisor Poppy McGuire said, "We do home evaluations. We send a staff member to the home to see how to improve it's safety." Sometimes it just takes a few details, such as having grab bars installed.
Once the home is adjusted, there's instruction from the staff. "We have an interdisciplinary team teaching. This can include nurses, physicians, the discharge social worker, planner as well as physical, occupational and speech therapists. All of this depends on the individual situation. We have a teaching day assigned and the different disciplines have an appointment time... We could also contact a dietician, because often appetite is affected. Outpatient or home health therapy can follow up."
Those sentiments are echoed by Rick Munson, liason at Adventist Health Home Care Services. He said, "Walla Walla General Hospital has a whole educational department, you can learn a lot from the medical social worker." Munson's advice for the family caregiver: ask questions, think about the resources needed and plan ahead.
Mary Cleveland, local program coordinator at Aging and Long Term Care, ALTC, agreed with Munson and added there are options for the unpaid family caregiver. It's a matter of calling, asking questions and researching available resources. Whether you get training from the hospital rehabilitation staff, take a class or join a support group, you can get plenty of useful information.
Classes are also available to help prepare the family caregiver. ALTC is taking names for a waiting list for the next "Powerful Tools for Caregiving" class that will be scheduled as soon as enough people register. "It helps caregivers take care of themselves and learn how to be mentally strong," she said.
If your loved one is in a rehab facility, Cleveland said, "Get hands-on training before discharge. Have them practice; work on the techniques. If you're not physically up to it, often we see older spouses caring for them, look at your options: other family members, paid staff, support programs."
Each year, usually in the fall, the local office of ALTC works with other organizations to hold the Caregiver Conference. Family caregivers can connect with others, access a wealth of information and learn new skills to help their loved ones and take better care of themselves in the process. Cleveland encouraged caregivers to locate information, take a class, attend a workshop or join a support group, each person's needs are different, ask questions and find out what's available before you need it.
In a challenging economy, caregiving may be an occupation in demand. "We know we have an aging population. We're seeing the huge baby boomer population, many of them are now in their early 60s."
"There's definitely a move toward professional caregivers. Caregivers have a union now, their goal is to make this a living wage job, with a higher level of training and professionalism."
"Learn about what's available for the future, it's not asking for help, because many of these people are fiercely independent, it's merely learning about your options," Cleveland said.
According to Cleveland, they can help a family caregiver decide what resources might be needed. "You want to help people see what resources they have available. Many family caregivers find resources through their church, they may have their own network of resources. It's important they call to explore their options."
Call Karlene Ponti at 509-526-8324 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance:
Family Caregiver Support Group, each month third Tuesday and first Thursday, call 529-6470 for screening
Providence St. Mary Medical Center, Poppy McGuire, 509-522-5158
Adventist Health, Home Care Services, 509-525-9006