Dear Savvy Senior,
What resources do you recommend that offer help to caregivers? I've been taking care of my 82-year-old mother, and it's wearing me to a frazzle.
Taking care of an elder loved one over a period of time can be incredibly taxing, both physically and mentally. Fortunately, there are a number of tips and services you can turn to that can help lighten the load. Here are several to consider.
1. Assemble a care team: A good first step is to put together a network of people (family, friends and even neighbors) that you can call on to help out when you can't be there or need a break.
2. Tap local services: Most communities offer a range of free or subsidized services that help seniors and caregivers by providing things like home delivered meals, transportation, senior companion services and more. Also, look into respite services that can provide short-term care to your mom so you can take some time off. Your Area Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 for contact information) can refer you to services available in your community.
3. Use financial aids: If you're handling your mom's financial chores, make things easier by arranging direct deposit for her income sources and set up automatic payments for her utilities and other routine bills.
If you need help, hire a professional daily money manager who can come in once or twice a month to pay bills, make deposits, decipher health insurance statements and balance her checkbook. They charge $25 to $100 per hour. Or, if your mom is low-income, a similar service is offered by AARP in select communities for free.
Benefitscheckup.org is another excellent resource you should use to look for financial assistance programs for lower-income seniors.
4. Get insurance help: If you have questions about Medicare, Medicaid or long-term care, your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) is a great resource that provides free counseling on all these issues.
You can also get help online at medicare.gov/campaigns/caregiver/caregiver.html, and through the Medicare Rights Center, which staffs a hotline at 800-333-4114 to help answer questions.
5. Use technology: If your mom lives alone, consider renting her a medical alert device, which is a small pendent-style "SOS" button that she wears, that would allow her to call for help if she falls. These are available through companies like lifelinesys.com and lifefone.com for about $1 per day. Or, check out home monitoring systems at mylively.com, beclose.com or grandcare.com.
There are also a number of great websites you can draw on for caregiving information and support like aarp.org/caregiving, caregiver.org and caring.com, along with alz.org/care, alzheimers.gov and thiscaringhome.org for caregivers of dementia patients. And, if you're sharing care responsibilities with others, sites like lotsahelpinghands.com, caresolver.com and caringbridge.org can help you coordinate together.
6. Hire help: Depending on your mom's needs and budget, you may want to hire a part-time "home-care aide" that can help with things like preparing meals, doing laundry, bathing or dressing, or if she needs health care services, a "home health aid." Costs can run anywhere from $12 up to $40 per hour depending on where you live and the qualification of the aide. To find someone, ask for referrals through friends, doctor's offices or hospital discharge planners or visit medicare.gov/homehealthcompare.
If you need additional guidance, consider hiring a geriatric care manager who can help you manage and facilitate your mom's care. Care managers generally charge between $100 and $200 per hour.
7. Take care of yourself: Make your own health a priority. Being a caregiver is a big job that can cause emotional and physical stress and lead to illness and depression. The only way you can provide the care your mother needs is to make sure you stay healthy.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.