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Help for Caregivers

Cuts, rural challenges strain service

Christina Fox of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a member of the sandwich generation, caring for both her live-in mother and two teenage sons - Caregiving

Wisconsin prides itself on services for the elderly and caregivers such as Christina Fox, of Milwaukee, who cares for her mother and two teenage sons. Recent budget cuts threaten key programs. — Kevin j. Miyazaki/Redux

Christina Fox describes her life as a caregiver as being torn between two generations.

See also: Caregiving Resource Center.

"Calling it the 'sandwich generation' is just a nice way of saying you're caught between your parents and your own children," said Fox, 43, of Milwaukee, who took in her ailing mother two years ago while parenting two teenagers.

Although her mother, Sara Muhammad, 66, does not drive and has difficulty walking, Fox never considered rejecting the caregiver role.

"I did it out of not wanting my mother in a nursing home or around strangers," she said.

Her experience reflects the difficulties caregivers face and she is just one of the half-a-million caregivers in Wisconsin.

"One-stop" resource centers

Wisconsin has long prided itself on above-average services for older people, people with disabilities and their caregivers, although recent budget cuts have stalled key programs, including the Family Care Partnership program for in-home caregivers.

Government programs are boosted by nonprofit organizations, skilled at spreading information and recruiting volunteers.

For example, the Alzheimer's Association has several branches in Wisconsin offering support groups, advice and help in tapping community resources.

"Wisconsin is aging, and more people will be caregivers for a parent or other family member," said Krista Scheel, program director for the Alzheimer's Association Southeastern Wisconsin chapter.

Wisconsin's larger cities have significant Hispanic and African American populations. Providing support services for those populations has unique challenges because there can be a greater stigma and reluctance to seek help for dementia, Scheel said.

"The word 'dementia' translated into Spanish means 'crazy,' so we use the phrase 'pérdida de memoria,' or 'memory loss,' " she said.

Maria Isabel Valdes, who immigrated with her mother and siblings from Cuba in 1961, a few months after their father, appreciates the help she received to line up aides to change, bathe and dress her father, Manuel, 88, who had dementia. Valdes, 52, also got help negotiating with Medicare to pay for a wheelchair and lift her father, who died in September.

"Older people like my mom don't fully understand everything and what's covered and what's not covered," said Valdes. Although Valdes called it "heart-wrenching" to witness her father's dementia, being able to remain in his home enabled him to recognize and enjoy familiar things like his favorite Cuban coffee. "For some reason that stuck in his brain," she said. "He knew 'Isa' was coming on Saturdays to make his coffee and get him shaved."

Next: Connecting caregivers to services. »

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AARP Chief Executive Officer Barry Rand and AARP Executive Vice President Deb Whitman discuss the experience of caregiving and AARP's resources for caregivers.

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