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Support for Caregivers

More funds sought to help them cope

woman standing in backyard, Lorraine Sandoval-Jiron unpaid caregiver Colorado

Benjamin Rasmussen

Lorraine Sandoval-Jiron, left, is a full-time, unpaid caregiver for her mother, Mary Sandoval. AARP says more money should be provided for the Older Coloradans Cash Fund to help similar caregivers.

When her parents' health began to decline more than 10 years ago, Lorraine Sandoval-Jiron knew she would be the one to care for them. It felt like the right thing to do, considering all they had done for her.

Before his death in 2011, her father's ailments left him unable to breathe without oxygen or walk unaided. Sandoval-Jiron tested his blood glucose level every day, doled out his medications, helped him to the toilet and used a baby monitor so she could respond to his needs during the night.

Her mother, now 87, has short-term memory loss and cannot be left alone. Osteoporosis and complications from hip surgery made it hard for her to walk. A fall soon after the surgery resulted in a broken leg.

Sandoval-Jiron, 65, of Henderson, used sick leave and vacation time to manage her parents' health issues. When she retired in 2009 from a U.S. government job, she hoped to find other employment. But her around-the-clock duties as an unpaid caregiver made holding another job impossible.

"I didn't feel it was a burden until a few months ago. I found myself losing my temper with my mother and then feeling guilty. I felt myself being resentful because I was so fatigued," she said.

Stresses of caregiving

Caregiving also has stressed her finances: Sandoval-Jiron has paid for most of her parents' medical expenses not covered by Medicare and all their living expenses. Occasionally she relies on a family member to stay with her mother for a few hours, but Sandoval-Jiron hasn't had a vacation in five years. She is considering respite care but has no idea what help is available.

People such as Sandoval-Jiron are the backbone of Colorado's long-term care system, according to a report prepared by AARP Colorado. An estimated 576,000 people in the state care for a loved one at home, 2009 statistics show.

"Issues cut across every ethnicity, every geographic location, every demographic," said Morie Smile, AARP Colorado director. "Especially in certain communities of color, we have seen that it is the norm to keep an elder in the home as long as possible. A lot of people don't think about themselves as caregivers; they're just taking care of Momma."

When caregivers are stretched too thin, the best place to begin the search for help is an Area Agency on Aging office, Smile said.

Fund for at-home services

The AAAs operate in 16 Colorado regions and administer the Older Coloradans Cash Fund, which provides money for caregiver training and classes, transportation, meals and other services that help frail people remain in their homes longer. AARP Colorado is urging state lawmakers to increase the fund, which this year received $10 million.

In addition, to help people determine which public benefits they are eligible for, AARP Colorado points people to an online tool, Benefits QuickLINK.

AARP Colorado also plans to disseminate information important to caregivers through partnerships with respite care providers, social service agencies and bilingual media.

Caregivers unable to attend seminars can find information on the AARP Colorado blog and interactive online sessions with experts.

For more information on and assistance with caregiving, visit the AARP Caregiving Resource Center.

Cynthia Pasquale is a writer living in Denver.

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