Carol Bradley Bursack of Fargo, North Dakota, cared for seven different relatives, including her parents, over a 20-year period, while also raising two sons. Until her relatives died or went into nursing homes, she did almost everything herself. "I was so obsessive about doing it all and trying to give them a better quality of life that I never thought to look around for help," says Bursack, author of Minding Our Elders (McCleery & Sons) and a newspaper columnist who writes on elder care. Today, although there is an entire industry designed to provide support, fewer than half of caregivers ever tap into such services, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving report.Ask Around
Local organizations, churches, synagogues, and senior centers offer numerous services including hot meals, transportation, and home repair. To start, visit the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging at n4a.org, or call your local office listed in the white pages. Take advantage of respite care, which can be short term, like adult daycare at a senior center, or extended, such as a week for your loved one in an assisted living facility. To find a service, use the Eldercare Locator at eldercare.gov, or call 800-677-1116. Also, check out the National Family Caregiver Support Program, run by the U.S. Administration on Aging (aoa.gov), which may in some states provide financial assistance for respite or personal care.
Usually a social worker, gerontologist, or nurse will do an assessment of the elderly person, then design a plan to help with the care. A care manager can be enlisted for advice with a short-term crisis or for a longer term, says Bob O'Toole, a board member of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers. He or she may be especially helpful when the elderly relative lives far away and the caregiver is unfamiliar with local services. These professionals charge $70 to $150 an hour, depending on the region. For more information, visit caremanager.org, or call 520-881-8008.
There are private duty agencies that can help with daily chores. "I used them when Mom was recovering from the flu," says Linda Rhodes. "They did her grocery shopping, made her meals, picked up her medications, and even played cards with her." The cost will vary depending on the agency and location. Home Instead, for example, charges $12 to $22 an hour, with overnight services costing $125 to $175 for a 12-hour shift. If you do use an agency, make sure the caregivers are employees, not independent contractors. "Independent caregivers become your employees, and you may be responsible for workers' compensation insurance and taxes," explains Scott Baumruck, executive director of the National Private Duty Association. To learn more about this service, log on to privatedutyhomecare.org.