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Looking for ways to manage the stress

A caregiver is someone who offers help to a family member or friend, either part time or full time. Caregivers provide many services that include transportation to the doctor, bill paying, help with bathing or dressing, shopping, meal preparation or coordinating outside assistance with an agency or organization that serves seniors. Those providing care often are not compensated, nor do they receive training, support or basic guidance to carry out their tasks.

This is where agencies such as the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas can help. By using the agency's services and the new Caregiver Handbook resource guide, caregivers can find answers and eliminate some of the frustration associated with helping those in need.

It's important to remember that caregiving has several stages and that resources are available at each stage. For some care providers, the process starts gradually, while others are cast into the role suddenly by a family crisis, injury or illness. Some caregivers have been in the role for an extended time and may find they are facing end-of-life issues. While each stage of the caregiving journey presents different opportunities or challenges, some useful advice applies throughout the process:

Accept help early. Ask for help from family or friends and seek help from businesses or agencies that serve seniors.

Trying to do everything alone can take a physical and emotional toll that in the long run may make it difficult or impossible to provide care. Just a few hours of respite can make a tremendous difference in your emotional and physical well-being.

Learn what it means to be a caregiver. Take time to learn as much as you can about the illness of the person for whom you are caring. Get familiar with community resources as quickly as possible.

Plan ahead. The bay area's recent brush with hurricanes Charley and Frances provide an important lesson about why every person should have a disaster relief plan. Discuss decisions and think through preferences long before they must be implemented. Medical, legal and financial planning should also be done early, while options are still available. Once decisions are made, communicate them to people who need to know, both family members and professionals.

Consider alternate care options. Caregivers may have an emergency that makes them unable to provide care. How would care be provided in the event of illness, hospitalization or death of the caregiver? Before the need arises, caregivers need to identify an alternative caregiver or emergency care options. Then, if the unthinkable happens, the care receiver will continue to get help.

Be creative when solving problems. For example, a husband with Alzheimer's would constantly change the thermostat, turning the heat on in the summer. The caregiver had another thermostat installed in a different location, disconnected the old one but left it in place. The man continued to adjust the old thermostat, but there was no effect on the electric bill. This creative solution gave the man an opportunity to feel in control, to act independently, without the frustration that locking the thermostat would have caused.

Avoid isolation. Being a caregiver can be a wonderful experience, but it also can be lonely. Caregivers can express love, loyalty and affection for those in their care, but it can also be a time when guilt, anger and frustration surface. Caregivers need people with whom they can share their experiences, in person or by phone. Look for support groups as a source of encouragement and information.

Be an advocate. Speak up to ensure that the person receives quality care from others. Caregivers must learn to ask questions, to evaluate the advice of others, and to refuse bad advice, even from a qualified professional.

The caregiving journey is often difficult, but it can be manageable if caregivers equip themselves for the role.