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Posted March 30, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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New class is out to show that there is help for those who are keeping loved ones at home

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By Linwood Outlaw III - loutlaw@nvdaily.com

EDINBURG -- Whether it's a grandparent suffering from dementia or a sibling confined to a wheelchair, keeping disabled loved ones under home care for as long as possible is always the goal -- but it isn't always easy.

Next month, the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation Department will hold a class to teach local residents how to cope with the responsibility of family caregiving.

The department will offer a free Art of Caregiving information session, for people ages 21 and older who are providing care for a loved one from their homes, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on April 22 at the Edinburg School at 508 PIccadilly St.

The class is intended to provide answers to questions about health and safety issues, products that can help simplify caregiving efforts, and dealing with changing relationships, said Teresa Funkhouser, recreation services coordinator for the Parks and Recreation Department.

"We're looking at providing information on how people can care for loved ones in their home. There's more people focused on that now than probably ever before," Funkhouser said.

More than 50 million people provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or elderly family member in a given year and provide an average of 21 hours of care per week, according to the National Family Caregivers Association. The typical family caregiver, according to the association, is a 46-year old woman caring for her widowed mother. Roughly 60 percent of all caregivers are women.

Assistance provided by family caregivers represents about 80 percent of all home care services and is valued at roughly $375 billion a year. But, the efforts are simply about providing a safe and familiar haven for elderly loved ones who are on the decline, said Peggy Davidson, a nurse administrator for Home Instead Senior Care in Winchester, who will teach the Art of Caregiving class and herself looks after her elderly parents.

"I thinking safety is one of the biggest issues. As their hearing and vision decrease, I think that's a real big issue with safety," Davidson said.

Caregivers provide assistance to people with a variety of conditions and diseases, including Alzheimer's, hearing loss, dementia and age-related macular degeneration. Certain conditions require specific treatment and caregivers are encouraged to educate themselves on their loved one's needs, Davidson said. They are also urged to learn about new technologies that can ease the caregiving process. This includes Alzheimer's tracking bracelets, Davidson said, which can help law enforcement if patients are found wandering in unfamiliar places.

"If [Alzheimer's] patients become lost, it's critical that police be able to find them quickly because time is of the essence," she said.

Simple efforts like making sure there is adequate lighting to help patients get in and out of chairs are also key in making a safe environment for loved ones in need, Davidson said.

Still, experts say, that responsibility of caring for someone can take its toll emotionally. Family caregivers who provide 36 hours or more of assistance per week are more likely than non-caregivers to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety, according to the caregivers association. For spouses, that rate is six times higher, and it's twice as high for those caring for a parent.

To help alleviate stress, caregivers should develop a routine schedule and determine their limits, like how long care recipients can remain at their home or their hours of availability each week. If at all possible, caregivers should also find time to incorporate fun activities with their hands-on care, such as singing songs or telling jokes, experts say.

Caregiving can also have financial hardship. Out-of-pocket medical expenses for a family that has a disabled member who needs help with daily living activities are more than 2.5 percent greater than families without disabled family, according to the caregivers association. Some even say they spend as much as $324 a month on caregiving expenses. Nevertheless, Davidson hopes her upcoming course will encourage people to keep their care recipients at home for as long as possible.

"I'm hoping it [will draw] a good response. It's all about keeping them at home as long as we can, maybe forever," Davidson said. "That's the best place for them."

For more information on the Art of Caregiving class or how to register, call 984-3030. The deadline to register is April 14.

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