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AARP Offers a Lifeline to People Caring for a Family Member

Resources for caregivers can't be overlooked

Linda Morris, right, assembled a care plan for her mother that includes day care, which allows Mildred Compton to live with her daughter rather than in a facility for people with dementia.

Jake Stangel

It took time, but Linda Morris, right, assembled a care plan for her mother that includes day care. It allows Mildred Compton to live with her daughter rather than in a facility for people with dementia.

Linda Morris didn't want to place her 90-year-old mother in an institution, but dementia was interfering with Mildred Compton's ability to live independently.

See also: Caregiving resource center: getting started. 

Morris knew Compton would need care beyond what she could provide but didn't know where to get it. She started calling respite care facilities and tried several before settling on one for her mother.

"You don't need advice," she said two years after starting the process. "You need help."

A year after Compton began sharing her daughter's home, Morris was able to find the assistance that gave both of them the support they needed.

Morris, 56, assembled a care plan that included home-care services provided by the state through local agencies.

She also discovered that as the widow of a veteran, Compton was eligible for veterans benefits that help with the cost of respite care. This allows her to spend up to five days a week at a multigenerational day-care facility. There, Compton can interact with people her own age as well as with children.

"I could bring her into my home and feed her," but that wasn't enough, said Morris, who is one of roughly 400,000 unpaid family caregivers in Oregon.

After Compton moved in, Morris also signed up for "Powerful Tools for Caregivers," a six-week program of classes developed in part by gerontologist and caregiving expert Vicki Schmall. It's aimed at helping caregivers take care of themselves while caring for loved ones.

The series is operated by a nonprofit organization. The classes are free, but participants are asked to pay $25 for the book if they can afford it. Classes are offered in various locations throughout Oregon.

Jerry Cohen, AARP Oregon state director, said Oregon is "a leader in helping the public and private sectors innovate with home care options."

He said AARP plays a key role.

For instance, more than 75,000 people have participated in five tele-town hall meetings on caregiving that AARP Oregon organized. Speakers were national and state experts.

AARP Oregon also participates in the annual Native Caring Conference for Native American caregivers and the "A Gift of Time" weekend retreat for family caregivers, which this year is Sept. 9 to 11 in Salem.

AARP Oregon also launched "Conversations in Caregiving," an online series featuring Schmall, who is an AARP volunteer.

"Conversations" includes six short videos on topics from dealing with emotions to the importance of caregivers taking care of themselves; articles that include resources for caregivers; and "Ask Vicki," a Facebook page where Schmall answers questions. Topics include making difficult transitions and dealing with depression. The videos can be seen at AARP Oregon's YouTube channel.

In addition, information was presented earlier this year at two half-day forums developed by AARP Oregon: "Live, Learn, Connect!" and "Thinking Ahead: Create the Future You & Your Loved Ones Desire."

AARP's educational efforts "are focused on life changes that most of us will face as we age," said Schmall, professor emerita in gerontology at Oregon State University.

Among them, she said, are changes in health, living arrangements, driving and family caregiving; and the need for health care directives, financial planning and long-term care.

Cohen said caring about and for neighbors, friends and family "is a key value for AARP. When we inform, educate, advocate and serve those who give and receive care, we build a stronger community."

George Neavoll is a writer living in Portland, Ore.

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