Taking care of an elderly, ill, or disabled loved one comes at a price for the caregiver.
Caregiving entails household assistance such as shopping, cooking, cleaning and doing laundry; physical assistance such as helping a family member dress, shower, and take medicine; transportation assistance; medical assistance; and whatever other needs arise.
Gayla Ratzlaff, department head for the county department of aging, conducts caregiver’s classes to help people deal with taking care of their loved ones.
“I lead a class called ‘Powerful Tools for Caregivers,’ ” Ratzlaff said.
Ratzlaff offered tips for caregivers to keep in mind.
“First of all — and this is kind of the major one — is to ask for help when you need it,” she said. “That’s hard to do.”
She recommends the caregiver try to establish a relationship with someone else who can be called upon when the caregiver needs to go to an appointment, get a haircut, or some other short outing.
“If you can somehow establish that, I think that’s a good thing to be able to do,” Ratzlaff said.
Caregivers can become overwhelmed with the daily duties of helping their family member with everything from housekeeping, eating, meal preparation, getting to appointments, and handling crises that arise.
“It might be establishing relationships with people who can help you with things,” Ratzlaff said.
Caregiving is fraught with stress, which can take a toll on the caregiver’s physical and mental health.
Caregivers face an increased risk of heart disease and other physical ailments, depression, and increased mortality rates.
“As a caregiver, you need to take breaks every day, whether that’s taking a walk around the block, reading a book, or whatever you enjoy doing,” Ratzlaff said. “You need to take care of your own health.”
On the more practical side, the paperwork is important.
“You need to make sure you have the legal documents in order, like durable power of attorneys for health care and finances, and know where the will is,” Ratzlaff said.
She also recommends joining a caregivers support group. Although there are no groups in Marion County, some can be found as close as McPherson and Harvey County, Ratzlaff said.
Some support agencies, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, offer virtual programs for caregivers.
Ratzlaff also recommends caregivers keep a good attitude toward themselves.
“You need to give yourself credit for doing the best you can, because it’s one of the toughest jobs there are,” she said.
Kansas extension agents across the state are offering the Powerful Tools for Caregivers program online in six Thursday installments at a cost of $5. The first class was Jan. 14, but people who want to enroll for the remaining five classes may call the Sedgwick County Extension Office at (316) 660-0117.