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Aurora -- Many family caregivers in Northeast Ohio could be at risk for heart disease, diabetes, depression and other physical and emotional maladies as a result of caregiver distress.
Studies increasingly point to caregiving as a leading stressor for families. One study revealed that more than half of those caring for individuals with distress such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease had scores indicating depression.
In response to the growing issue, the area's Home Instead Senior Care office has launched a public awareness campaign -- Family Caregiver Stress Relief at www.FamilyCaregiverStressRelief.com -- to help caregivers determine if they are at risk for distress and minimize problems before they escalate.
One person who has personal experience with the stress that caregiving for elderly parents can bring about is Sylvia Pla-Raith of Aurora, who has been a caregiver for her mother and father, Sylvia and Ramone Pla Perez, for the past four years.
Her father, 81, has been struggling with diabetes and vascular dementia. Her mother was a caregiver to her husband until she developed Alzheimer's three years ago.
"My mother still thinks she is taking care of my father," said Pla-Raith. "My father also doesn't realize that my mom has Alzheimer's. He often asks what's wrong with her."
She moved her parents to Aurora three years ago so they would be close enough for her to take care of. In October 2012, her mother was hospitalized for pneumonia and she had to bring her father home with her.
"It was at this point I realized I can't keep doing this," said Pla-Raith. "I saw an article in the Advocate about geriatric case workers."
IT TOOK A couple of tries for her to find an agency she was comfortable with, but Pla-Raith has been receiving services from Home Instead Senior Care for the past six months. A worker takes care of her parents Mondays to Fridays, and Pla-Raith continues to care for them on weekends.
"It has helped me greatly because I am able to work and spend more time with my husband and two teenagers," said Pla-Raith. "I'm still very much involved in my parents' care. Being a caregiver is physically and emotionally draining. My parents didn't realize I needed help in order to help them."
Therese Glorioso, president of Home Instead Senior Care serving Lake, Geauga and Portage counties, believes it is very important for caregivers to receive help.
"I believe that what we do for Sylvia as a daughter is give her peace of mind that allows her to be a daughter again to her parents she loves so deeply," said Glorioso. "We provide compassionate and individualized care to help seniors age at home with dignity and with independence."
There are other options available to relieve stress on caregivers, including counseling sessions and a support group offered by Coleman Adult Day Services in Ravenna, which is an agency of the Portage County Mental Health and Recovery Board.
Janet Phelps, a registered nurse and chief officer of Coleman Adult Day Services, agreed stress on caregivers is a very real problem.
"We deal with many cases of stress brought on when families try to keep elderly relatives out of a nursing home," she said. "In many cases, it's not just adult children who are stressed, but a spouse who is trying to care for his or her husband or wife.
"WE SEE varying degrees of burnout, which can effect people mentally and physically. The problem is probably worse with elderly husbands and wives who are trying to care for their spouses because they are more susceptible to developing health problems."
Phelps said caregivers need time for themselves, so any way they can get some time off from taking care of someone -- and still have the security that the person is safe and in good hands -- is good.
According to Phelps, Coleman Adult Day Services has a day care center for adults in Ravenna, and it offers transportation for elderly clients from Aurora and other Portage County communities.
According to Phelps, one advantage of an adult day care center is that it offers socialization activities and interaction with staffers and other elderly clients, rather than the senior citizen just spending time all day at home with a single caregiver.
"Caregivers want to know that they're loved one will be safe, and Coleman Adult Day Services can assure that," she said.
Family counseling sessions also are offered, and families can participate in a monthly support group. In addition to agencies such as Home Instead Care Services and Coleman, Phelps said hospice agencies can help guide caregivers through the process if a family is facing an end-of-life situation.
Those needing guidance with caregiving issues can call Home Instead at 330-995-1522 or visit www.homeinstead.com/113, or can call Coleman Adult Day Services at 330-296-3214 or 1-877-345-1180.
Phelps said another nearby agency which can help is Portage County Child and Adult Protective Services in Ravenna, which can be reached at 330-296-CARE.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4163