By William K. Alcorn
Caregivers don’t have to go it alone.
When taking care of a loved one becomes too much, there are places and people to whom they can turn.
“I’ve always said one of the hardest jobs is to care for a loved one, especially in their senior years,” said Robert Rusu, an elder-care attorney with the firm of Lane and Rusu in Canfield.
“It is every day, day-in and day-out, never a break. It’s the most stressful thing they can go through. Sometimes caregivers get sick and die before the person they are taking care of. I’ve seen abuse — the caregiver snaps and is embarrassed to ask for help. It’s extremely difficult,” Rusu said.
He said he tells his clients that during the day they are doing the cooking and cleaning and monitoring medicine. Then when they sit down and want to sleep, the one they are caring for is ready to go, disrupting the caregiver’s sleep cycle.
The situation Rusu described is a phenomenon known as “sundowning.” It occurs when a person with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, becomes confused at the end of the day and into the night and keeps the caregiver awake.
The answer, Rusu said, is to seek help through the Alzheimer’s Association, church or civic groups, or family and friends.
Also, there are firms that can provide trained caregivers to give the primary caregiver a few hours of relief. For more-advanced patients, there are assisted-living or nursing-home facilities, he said.
One of the private-pay local firms that provides caregiver help is Home Instead Senior Care in Austintown, a franchise started May 1, 2001, by Carol Hitchcock, who in 2011 received Shepherd of the Valley’s Legacy Award as Outstanding Advocate for Seniors.
Hitchcock’s company, at 45 N. Canfield-Niles Road, has grown to 175 caregivers who receive four weeks of classroom and hands-on training.
Her business has a new caregiver-training facility that includes Susie the mannequin for learning how to properly move patients and a pseudo bathroom with a tub and commode that gives caregivers practice helping clients in and out of the tub and on and off the toilet.
Home Instead’s caregivers also are bonded and go through an extensive background and driver’s-license check. They are fingerprinted, screened for illegal drug use, and must provide six references — three personal and three professional, said Dottie Johntony, operations manager.
“We train our caregivers to give the best care possible. All of our caregivers are passionate about what they do, and so am I,” said Hitchcock, who worked for many years in the office at Northside Medical Center when it was part of the Forum Health health-care system.
“This is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, both personally and professionally,” she said.
For at-home help, Home Instead Senior Care recently launched Family Caregiver Stress Relief, which can be accessed at www.FamilyCaregiverStressRelief.com. The website contains tools to help family caregivers determine if they are at risk for distress and to minimize problems before they escalate.
There aren’t just problems and concerns for caregivers. There also are rewards for people taking care of a loved one, Rusu said.
“Knowing that they took care of that loved one, and were with them up to their final days, can give great satisfaction,” he said. “A lot of times with a spouse, they feel it’s a duty. I think it is more out of love.”
Rusu said it also is rewarding for him and his partners, Joseph Lane, Charlene Burke and Thomas Sanborn, to guide clients in making medical decisions, gain power of attorney and discuss what funding sources for which they might qualify, and to help them put together a plan to keep their loved one at home longer.