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Pay attention to ensure elderly relatives are looked after properly

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
November 5, 2007
— Julie Seeman, information and assistance specialist at the Rock County Council on Aging, frequently is asked these questions by adult children, who visit their elderly parents over the holidays and might not have seen them since Easter because they live away:

Q: Where do I start and what can I do to help after noticing my family member has lost weight since my last visit?


A: You need to have a discussion with your family member and ask what might have caused the weight loss.


-- Were they not able to cook nutritious foods?


-- Was it hard for them to get groceries or go to the grocery store to get foods?


-- Do they have dental issues and are unable to eat due to pain or discomfort?


-- Are they not hungry or did not like eating alone?


Depending on their answer, there are things you can do to help. You can contact the local county aging unit to discuss what community options or services there are for your loved one. They will be able to direct you to transportation services, congregate meal programs, home delivered meal programs and senior companion programs. If you feel your loved one has medical or dental issues, you might want to contact his or her doctor and schedule an appointment.


Q: What can I do to help and where do I start after noticing my family member has neglected personal hygiene that has resulted in the wearing of dirty clothes, body odor, bad breath, neglected nails and teeth and sores on the skin?


A: You need to discuss your observations with the family member in a tactful, gentle way.


-- Ask if there are vision issues that could impair hygiene?


-- Are they having physical issues that prevent them from getting in and out of the bath or shower?


-- Do they identify other reasons for this?


-- Do they get mad and refuse to discuss the issue and tell you it is your imagination?


You can contact the local county aging unit to discuss what community options or services are available for your loved one. Sometimes neglected personal hygiene is the first signal of Alzheimer’s disease so you can contact the Alzheimer’s Support Center for more information. You also might have your family member assessed at a geriatric assessment center.


Q: What are some examples of services to assist my family member?


A: Adult day care, information and referral/assistance information services, case management, elder abuse prevention programs, emergency response systems, employment services, financial assistance, nutrition services, home health services, legal assistance, personal care, respite care, senior housing options, senior center programs, telephone reassurance, transportation and volunteer services.


To access services in Rock County, contact the Rock County Council on Aging Information and Assistance Specialist at (608) 758-8455. Or go to the Council on Aging Web site at www.co.rock.wi.us/dept/aging.htm. You also might refer to the Rock County Senior Directory which is located on the Web site.


To access services and for additional information on available programs for older adults and their caregivers outside of Rock County, contact the Eldercare Locator, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 1-800-677-1116 or through the Web site at www.eldercare.gov. The Eldercare Locator is a public service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging and is administered by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging in cooperation with the National Association of State Units on Aging.


Q:What could I get my parents for Christmas, their birthdays or other holidays that also would help them remain independent?


A: The Rock County Council on Aging offers gift certificates for meals at a congregate dining program or the rural home delivered meal program. Those programs provide a hot lunch meal, either at a meal site location or through home delivery. For more information, call (608) 757-5474. If your parents live in the Beloit area and would like home delivered meals, call Beloit Meals on Wheels at (608) 362-3683.


If transportation is an issue, you can buy a 12-ride ticket for the specialized transit van through Rock County Specialized Transit. The vans are available by appointment and provide rides to elderly and disabled citizens to any location within Rock County. For more information, call (608) 757-5054.


If you worry about your parents being home alone and falls are an issue, you might want to check out the Lifeline program. Lifeline is an easy-to-use personal response service that ensures older adults living at home get quick assistance whenever it is needed. The Lifeline program is offered through Mercy Hospital at (608) 756-6784 and Beloit Memorial Hospital at (608) 364-5480. The cost per month runs from $20 to $25. As a gift, buy 12 months of Lifeline.


Who will be caregivers in the future?

A shrinking number of family members able to serve as caregivers will have to pick up the slack as Wisconsin’s population ages and the number of households with caregiving needs grows.


Wisconsin already has more adults 65 and older (13 percent) than the national average (12 percent).


From the 1990 to the 2000 U.S. Census, the oldest adults 85 and older increased by 29 percent—three times the increase in Wisconsin’s total population (9.6 percent) that decade.


Based on census data, Wisconsin can expect the older adult population to increase rapidly. In 2011, the first post-World War II baby-boomers turn 65. By 2030, more than a fifth (21 percent) of Wisconsin’s population will be 65 or older—meaning one in five people will be at or older than retirement age.


As the number of households providing care to older adults soars, families are getting smaller. The 1990 U.S. Census found 11 potential caregivers for each person needing care. By 2050, the number of potential caregivers per recipient is projected to plummet to four.


The shortage of family caregivers will have major ramifications for families, communities and health care providers.


Caregiver statistics

-- 80 percent of all home care is provided by family caregivers.


-- Caregiving is no longer predominantly a woman’s issue. Men now make up 44 percent of the caregiving population.


-- Over half of all caregivers are in their prime working years. Fifty-four percent are between 35 and 64 years old.


-- More than one quarter (26.6 percent) of the adult population has provided care to a family member or friend during the past year. Based on current census data, that translated into more than 54 million people.


-- More people enter nursing homes because of caregiver burnout rather than an exacerbation of their own condition.


What are the costs of caregiving?

According to a conservative estimate, the economic value of the unpaid informal care friends and family provide nationwide is $257 billion a year. That figure dwarfs annual national spending for:


-- Formal home health care—$33 billion.


-- Formal nursing home care—$83 billion.


Wisconsin family caregivers provide almost $4 billion in caregiving services annually. That ranks Wisconsin 18th in the nation for the dollar value caregivers contribute.


In 2002, 42 percent of U.S. workers provided some form of caregiving. In a study of employers, more than two-thirds (70 percent) reported staffing problems related to caregiving increased in the last 10 years. Yet two-fifths (40 percent) had no plan in place to assist caregivers.


What is family caregiving?

It often starts with running errands and helping shop or manage legal and financial affairs.


Caregiving differs according to need, community resources and caregiver capability. Some may provide 24-hour care in their home, while others provide guidance and support via long-distance phone calls and correspondence. Some offer care after work or on weekends, while others supplement care in a nursing home or have help from a local hospice organization when caring for a family member.


Such care ranges from administering medicines and physical therapy to taking care of daily needs—dressing, bathing and feeding. Family caregivers help with household tasks and provide the much-needed emotional support essential for healing and coping with long-term disability, degenerative disease, and chronic or terminal illness.


Who are family caregivers?


Everybody, including a husband who feeds, bathes and clothes his elderly wife who is in the final stages of life; a wife who visits her husband daily in the nursing home; a mother who provides everyday care to her developmentally disabled adult son who lives with her; a daughter-in-law who visits her husband’s parents daily to make sure they take their medication.


However, people do not readily identify themselves as caregivers. Unless a sudden accident or illness intervenes, the caregiver role evolves over time and gradually turns into a major time-consuming responsibility that can be stressful.


Resources for family caregivers

Community and Web-based resources are available to family caregivers, providing information, educational programs and direct services. If you do not have a computer, try your local library. Most libraries have a free computer connected with the Internet. Or call the U.S. Administration on Aging Eldercare Locator toll-free at 1-800-677-1116 weekdays 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Spanish help is available. Visit www.eldercare.gov.


Start with these:


-- Home Health Care Hotline, Department of Health and Family Services—if you need or know someone who needs home health care, if you want to know what services and agencies are available in your area or if you have a complaint and want to know if there have been other complaints about a home health agency in your area, 1-800-642-6552, http://dhfs.wisconsin.gov/rl_DSL/HHAs/HHAhotline.htm.


-- Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, (608) 266-1311, 1-800-947-8387, http://dva.state.wi.us/CVSO.asp.


-- U.S. Administration on Aging Web site has information and resources for older adults and their caregivers, including fact sheets and state contact numbers, www.aoa.dhhs.gov.


-- Medicare hotline, 1-800-633-4227.


-- AARP is a national organization with a state office and local chapters in every state. It provides information and promotes the independence of older adults. Its free online seminar “Planning for the Care of Aging Parents” is just one example of the educational resources it provides on family caregiving. www.aarp.org/learn/course/Articles/a2003-06-13-planningparentsdescrip.html.


-- Alzheimer’s Association is a national organization with a network of chapters in every state, providing information, education, support and referral. To locate the chapter that serves your community, call toll-free, any time (Spanish and other language help available) at 1-800-272-3900, www.alz.org.


-- Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute is an academic center within the UW Medical School. WAI develops innovative education and training programs, coordinates research and provides technical expertise for health care providers caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias: www.medsch.wisc.edu/wai.


-- Alzheimer’s Support Center for those affected with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, (608) 314-8500, www.alzheimerssupportcenter.org.


-- Rock County Council on Aging Information and Assistance Specialist, (608) 758-8455, www.co.rock.wi.us.


-- Rock County Human Services Long Term Support Division, (608) 741-3555, www.co.rock.wi.us.


-- Veterans Service Office, Rock County Courthouse, (608) 757-5552 and (608) 363-6280, www.co.rock.wi.us.


-- County and tribal aging offices answer questions about needs, services and opportunities for older adults and their families. To locate your county or tribal aging office, consult www.dhfs.state.wi.us/aging/contacts/COAGOF.HTM.


-- University of Wisconsin Extension has local offices in every county and provides educational resources through classes, publications and Web sites. To locate your county UW Extension office, consult www1.uwex.edu/ces/cty.


-- The Wisconsin Alliance for Family Caregiving, which is provided leadership by the UW Extension, has fact sheets and other educational resources plus links to additional Web sites for family caregivers and the professionals who support them: www.1.uwex.edu/ces/flp/caregiving.



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