Ask the Expert

Finding Support in Your Community

As a caregiver, you may need to help your loved one with a broad range of activities, such as bathing, dressing, cooking and eating. In addition, you may have to take care of legal and financial matters, such as making medical decisions, paying bills, handling investments and budgeting accounts. Fortunately, a variety of community care services are available to assist you and your loved one.

Community Care Options

Informal Care involves the help of friends, family, religious communities, neighbors and others who can share the responsibilities of caregiving. This "informal" support network can help with specific tasks (e.g., household chores), provide emotional support to you and your loved one, and help the care recipient maintain a healthy level of social and recreational activity.

Information and Referral helps you identify your local resources. California's Caregiver Resource Centers, national Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), senior centers or community mental health programs are good resources that can help you find potential services, such as housing, meals, and adult day care programs.

Case Management Services can locate and provide hands-on management of services for your loved one. Professional case managers, who charge by the hour, usually have a background in counseling, social work or a related healthcare field and are trained to assess your individual situation and to implement and monitor a care plan to meet the needs of your loved one.

Legal and Financial Counseling is often needed when your loved one cannot manage legal and/or financial affairs. Areas of concern to family caregivers include future healthcare decisions, management of assets, public benefits planning and, in some cases, litigation. Legal referrals and advice may be obtained from senior legal services provided by local Area Agencies on Aging. California residents may be eligible for a legal consultation through a California Caregiver Resource Center.

Transportation Services may include curb-to-curb paratransit service to those individuals who are unable to use regular public transportation. Paratransit generally consists of wheelchair-accessible vans or taxis for people with disabilities.

Nutrition Programs provide meals—usually lunch—in a group setting. Many churches, synagogues, housing projects, senior centers, community centers, schools and day programs offer meals as a service to elders in the community for a minimal fee. For homebound individuals who are unable to shop for or prepare their own meals, home-delivered meals (through programs such as "Meals-on-Wheels") may be an option.

Respite Care offers relief for family, partners, and friends so they can take a break—a respite—from the demands of providing constant care. Respite care includes adult day care and home care services (see below), as well as overnight stays in a facility, and can be provided a few hours a week, a weekend, or longer. Many caregiver support programs offer respite assistance as part of their services. Some service organizations offer volunteer respite workers who provide companionship or protective supervision only.

Adult Day Care offers participants the opportunity to socialize, enjoy peer support, and receive health and social services in a safe, familiar environment. There are two types of adult day care: (1) adult social day care provides social activities, meals, recreation, and some health-related services; (2) adult day health care offers more intensive health, therapeutic, and social services for individuals with severe medical problems and those at risk of requiring nursing home care.

Home Care combines health care and supportive services to help homebound sick or disabled persons continue living at home as independently as possible. There are two types of home care available: (1) home health care services provide a wide range of medical services, including medication assistance, nursing services, and physical therapy; (2) nonmedical home care services include companionship, housekeeping, cooking, and many other household activities and chores.

Hospice Care provides special services and therapies so individuals who are terminally ill can remain at home. A hospice care team of professionals and volunteers tries to meet the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs by providing medical and nursing care, social services, dietary consultation, and emotional support to both the patient and the caregiver.

Support Groups bring together friends and family members who meet regularly to share information and discuss practical solutions to common problems. They are a good source of information on available resources and provide caregivers with the opportunity to give and receive encouragement, understanding, and support from others who have similar concerns. Online support groups also provide opportunities to connect with other caregivers.

Contacting the Resources

Once you have assessed your needs and identified the types of resources available in your community, you can begin contacting community care services. Be aware that it can be a confusing and time consuming—although ultimately worthwhile—experience to locate, arrange, and receive appropriate services. The following is a list of suggestions to guide you through the process of locating and accessing appropriate services:

  • When dealing with agencies, be assertive and specific about your needs.
  • Mornings are usually the best time to call.
  • Don't hang up until you understand the follow-up procedures (i.e., who calls whom, what will be done next, what you need to do next).
  • Be aware that you might be placed on a waiting list.
  • Don't hesitate to ask for help. The purpose of most community agencies is to provide services to individuals who need help.
  • Don't give up!

For more information, use the online resources listed under QUICK CLICKS in this newsletter (at right).

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