This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Caring for those who care for the elderly

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Are you a caregiver and don't even know it?
 
Maybe you buy groceries for an aging parent who has trouble getting to the store. Maybe you spend your lunch break chauffeuring them to a doctor's appointment. Or perhaps you swing by their house on your way home to check if the fridge is stocked and the laundry isn't piling up.
 
caregiverWhile caring for an aging parent has its rewards, the stress combined with juggling the demands of work and raising a family can take its toll.
 
"It's physically taxing and emotionally draining," said Nanette Levine-Mann, co-director and elder care counselor at UCLA's Staff and Faculty Counseling Center who facilitates an ongoing monthly caregivers support group. "And if you're doing it long distance, you're flying back and forth. You worry about whether they're getting enough care or if you're doing enough."
 
Over time, the stress can build until it’s overwhelming. "Caregivers may feel sad, agitated, have trouble sleeping or they can't concentrate on a project,” said Maureen Kelly, elder care counselor at UC Berkeley's CARE Services for faculty and staff. “They may think ‘I'm not doing anything well. I'm not being a good daughter or son. I'm not being a good parent or spouse. I'm not being a good employee.'"  
 
The UCLA Staff and Faculty Counseling Center offers free, confidential one-on-one counseling on elder care concerns. Counselors can direct you to the right resources, help you navigate the complex legal and health insurance maze that accompanies elder care, and help you adjust to caregiving. (See resource information below)
 
UCLA also offers monthly support group meetings that sometimes feature guest speakers who discuss hospice care, compassion fatigue and other pertinent topics.
 
It’s unknown exactly how many UCLA faculty and staff serve as caregivers, in part because many do not identify themselves as such.
 
Nationally, 43.5 million Americans care for someone over the age of 50, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), which runs the National Center on Caregiving. Caregivers experience higher levels of stress and suffer from depression at twice the rate of the general population. One study found that 40 percent to 70 percent of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression.
 
Caregivers also are at greater risk for high blood pressure, obesity and other health problems, according to the FCA, because they often sacrifice their own needs to take care of someone else's.
Counselors emphasize that feeling caregiver stress or frustration is normal and understandable.
 
As Kelly explained, the experience of caring for an elder is unique. Someone raising a healthy baby, for example, expects that child to grow up and have a bright future. But for caregivers, the time and energy that's invested doesn't stop the deterioration an elder will inevitably face as part of aging.
 
"Caregivers are continually dealing with a sense of loss. ‘My mom can't see as well as she used to. My dad was a physicist but now he can't remember his children's names," Kelly said. "There's a lot of grieving and a pervasive sadness, in addition to the stress."
 
So how can faculty and staff get help and take care of themselves while tending to an elder?

• Talk to an aging parent or spouse about finances, health care and support systems. Make a plan. Organize important documents and information.

• Set realistic goals. Assume a reasonable amount of responsibility.

• Take care of yourself. Get proper rest. Eat well. Pay attention to your body's warning signs: problems sleeping; trouble concentrating or loss of interest; feeling sad or agitated; feeling tired; change in eating habits resulting in weight gain or weight loss; feeling that nothing you do is good enough; physical symptoms that don't decrease with treatment such as digestive problems or headaches. If you experience these for more than two consecutive weeks, you may have depression.

• Reduce your stress. Meditate, do an enjoyable activity, talk to a friend or delegate responsibilities.

• Don't be afraid to ask for help. When it's offered, accept it.
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If you're interested in joining the eldercare support group at UCLA, call the Staff and Faculty Counseling Center at (310) 794-0245. The support group will meet next on Feb. 28 from noon to 1 p.m. at the UCLA Wilshire Center, Room 635. The center is open from Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Evening and early morning appointments are available upon request.
 
Here are other resources:

Sittercity is UC's new online resource to help you find caregiver services. UC pays the fee that gives you access to Sittercity's database of pre-screened caregivers complete with reviews and references. You choose who to hire, negotiate rates and pay the caregiver.

Elder Care Locator is a free nationwide service to help elders and caregivers find resources in their community. Call (800) 677-1116 and you will be connected with the local Area Agency on Aging.

Family Caregiver Alliance provides education, services, research and advocacy for caregivers nationwide. Their Family Care Navigator connects you with local support groups, respite programs and more.

Alzheimer's Association operates a 24-hour-a-day helpline at (800) 272-3900. They offer education, support groups and resources for people with memory loss and their caregivers.

• Find a geriatric care manager through the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers.
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