SENIORS’ HEALTH NETWORK: Caregiver support just a call or click away

First step in getting help is to reach out, says Come Share official

The Seniors Health Network each month explores a different health-care topic with local professionals.

This month, Come Share Society executive director Sue McIntosh addresses this question posed by Lynne, a caregiver:

“I’m a 78-year-old senior and I take care of my 82-year-old husband. He has developed some dementia. I do my very best, but I’m getting very tired and I’m not able to sleep through the night because I am so worried. Our kids don’t live around here so they are not able to help us out. Is there any help available?”

Congratulations, Lynne, you’ve made the first step toward keeping yourself healthy as a caregiver – you reached out and asked for help. Too many caregivers put themselves at the back of the line when it comes for caring for themselves. As we are told on the planes, put on your own oxygen mask first, then assist someone else.

Based on what you have shared, you are doing a good job. However, if I were in your shoes I wouldn’t be able to carry on without assistance and some community resource support. There are a number of supports that could assist both you and your husband.

The first program I would access would be Fraser Health’s Home Health Service Line, at 1-(855)-412-2121.

Home Health provides a wide range of health-care services to help individuals whose independence is affected by short- or long-term health-related issues. Anyone can ask for an assessment for family members or themselves. What this service can provide is support in your home, day-program referral, long-term placement or home nursing care. Support in your home may include:

• Daily living activities at home such as bathing, dressing and grooming;

• Special exercises, medication administration and other care needs;

• Respite services – Support and relief for your primary caregiver in your home or out of the home.

Please note, Fraser Health allows for 30 days per year, so talk to the community professional nurses who come to your home to discuss what would work best for you and your husband. Please note, respite spaces are limited so make your request early.

In my role at Come Share, I have heard a number of family members not wanting to express the full extent of the issues they face as a caregiver to the health-care team. I understand it is hard to talk when your spouse is sitting beside you listening to you recite his/her challenges.

It can feel like you changed from being on his side to against him. It is tough, but the right plan of action needs to be put in place.

Additionally, the community professional nurse can refer your husband to a day program for older adults. This program offers additional respite for you while your husband can attend the program and socialize with peers. The program includes:

• modified fitness program;

• therapeutic programming including music, cognitive and creative stimulation activities, walks and much more;

• a full lunch and snacks;

• bathing for those who cannot safely access the facilities they have in their home;

• health-care monitoring through our trained staff and nursing support;

• caregiver support groups, one-to-one sessions, educational speakers and social opportunities to build connections and a broader support network; and,

• while your spouse is at the day program you have time to care for yourself.

In the community, there are disease-specific support groups available such as:

• Stroke club

• Alzheimer’s education and support groups

• Parkinson’s Support group

As a caregiver myself, I know how important it is to have friends, family and contacts that you can call when things get tough. I understand that your children are not in the area, but they can still help you by staying connected to you both, sharing stories that make you smile or laughing and being at the end of the phone when you need to just talk.

Your family members can harness technology through their computer or iPhone to have regular video chats using programs like Facetime or Skype.

Don’t forget to use those 30 respite days, perhaps to visit your family, go on a trip or stretch out at home and just rest. If you don’t take care of you, you may not be there to care for your husband.

I am a caregiver for my mother. My mother had an accident and a couple of strokes, impacting her memory and eyesight, but not her feisty nature. When this occurred, I knew where to call for support and what to put in place, but the reality of putting this into action was frustrating and time-consuming.

The number of phone calls made, arranging times for visits, interviews and appointments all took a toll. I felt like I was trying to do three full-time jobs and not doing any of them well. I work in this field and I was frustrated so please, for your sake and that of the person you are caring for, ask for help.

Sue McIntosh has been the executive director of the Seniors Come Share Society for 42 years. Her passion is building supportive, community-based services for older adults so they can stay in their community for as long as possible.

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