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Think you know AARP? What you don't know about us may surprise you. Discover all the 'Real Possibilities'

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President's Corner

Caregivers Don't Have to Do It Alone

AARP’s Caregiving Resource Center provides online and phone support

For example, when and if parents need more care than they can provide for themselves, the problem of housing looms large. Caregivers often need to decide whether to move into a parent's home, have the parent move in with them or find a place for their mom or dad to live with more assistance.

Not surprisingly, costs can play a leading role in the housing decision. In the midst of the economic downturn in 2009, one survey (PDF) found that 20 percent of family caregivers said they'd had to move into the same house with their aging parents to cut down on their annual expenses, and another 47 percent — nearly half — said they had used up all or most of their savings from providing care.

And when parents come to a point where they are no longer safe living alone, even for part of the day, the search for assisted living or other housing options may start. Medicare doesn't generally pay for assisted living, whether it's in a board-and-care or a nursing home, and the benefits paid for in-home care vary significantly, making it a costly, if not unaffordable option for many caregivers.

It's a complicated process, and one that is very difficult to navigate alone, which brings me back to where I began. Caregiving is a big job, but a caregiver doesn't have to do it alone. A wealth of resources is available, and AARP's expanded, interactive Caregiving Resource Center is among the most comprehensive.

A ready network of articles, videos, webinars, chats and even a toll-free support line, AARP's Caregiving Resource Center connects caregivers with experts, resources and — perhaps most important — with each other. Says Liz Bradley, who directs the caregiving initiative, "AARP got involved because research shows so many boomer women are in the same boat. They are spending an average of 20 hours a week taking care of someone else, and then they have their own family and work as well," she says. "They need to know they're not alone and how they can get access to safe and trusted information that can make their lives a little easier. "

AARP's new program focuses on caregivers and brings them what a great deal of research has found they need most: connections. Talk to people who cared for their parents or their spouses with dementia, and you will hear something like this over and over: "I wish I had reached out for help. But I was so overwhelmed with the day-to-day burdens of caring for my mom that I didn't realize how I was isolating myself from everyone else, especially my family and close friends. I thought I should be able to do this by myself."

Isolation — like the housing challenge — is a likely byproduct of being a family caregiver. The foundation's isolation impact team is working on a new program, "Care Buddies." Piloting the program in four African American churches in Washington, D.C., the isolation team is seeking the best means of providing support to African American caregivers. The program will include packaged training materials for caregiver workshops, and instruction on how to start a "friendly visit"/respite volunteer program within a church. The yearlong project will be closely followed and evaluated, with the hope that it will eventually become a model for churches to reach African American caregivers across the country.

I'm proud of AARP's role as a leader on the caregiving issue. As far as I'm concerned, we can't help caregivers enough — and I'm delighted that AARP Foundation is taking part.

Jo Ann Jenkins is president of AARP Foundation.

Also of interest: We're working to reconnect those in isolation. »

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