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Norman is elderly and lives alone in a two-bedroom house. His family keeps in touch, but none of them visit regularly. He is mentally sharp, but has lost most of his hearing and has trouble seeing. He still gets around, but occasionally relies on his wheelchair. Nonetheless, Norman is spry and independent, maintaining his home and property to the best of his ability. Norman's neighbor, Janet, keeps an eye on him and tries to anticipate things that he may try to do for himself, but really can no longer do safely, such as mow the lawn, run errands and carry groceries. She does just enough to help keep Norman safe, without getting too involved in his life.
Is Janet a caregiver?
Many of us help older, sick or disabled family members and friends every day. We know we are helping, but we don't think of ourselves as caregivers. When we hear the word "caregiver," most of us think of health-related care such as feeding, dressing and bathing, but caregiving is much more. It can include lending a helping hand in a time of need, helping manage finances, driving them somewhere or just spending time with someone to ease her loneliness.
When you are involved in another person's life, know what help she needs and, occasionally, skip something you need to do because she needs you, you are providing care. Because of your efforts, the person you are helping is able to remain safe and healthy in her own home. And, you are not alone. Nearly one-third of the U.S. adult population (29 percent) are caregivers, providing an average of 20 hours of care per week. Almost two million Ohioans provide 80 percent of all long-term care services, which include help around the home, each year.
By lending a hand, you can help reduce the risk of injury and illness and prevent unnecessary institutionalization. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, one-half of elderly individuals who do not have someone to look after them end up in nursing homes when they require long-term care. Compare this to the 93 percent of elderly individuals with long-term care needs who age in their own homes with sometimes minimal help from family and friends.
Janet thinks of herself only as Norman's neighbor and doesn't do anything for him that she wouldn't want her own friends and family to do for her. She certainly doesn't consider herself Norman's caregiver - in fact, the very concept strikes her as offensive. Yet, she is helping him and experiences much of the same frustration, stress and satisfaction that only comes from a caregiving relationship.
According to the National Family Caregivers Association, more than 90 percent of people who recognize themselves as caregivers become more proactive, engaged and confident, and provide better care. They know about and use available resources, such as care training, resources and information, caregiver support groups, respite care, adult day services, home delivered meals programs and more.
Even if you think you are just "helping out," have a frank discussion with yourself about how far the help has to go before you'll call it care. If you reach that point, will it change your relationship? Are you prepared to take that step?
Your area agency on aging can help you answer the question: "Am I a caregiver?" Staff also can point you to available services and supports for you and the ones you care about. Call 1-866-243-5678 to be connected to the agency serving your community.