PROFILE: The Aging Center’s Aging Families and Caregiver Program

In 2011, the first wave of the Baby Boom generation turned 65. By 2056, the population over 65 will outnumber those under 18. As parents, wives, husbands, and siblings move inexorably toward end-of-life care, the Aging Families and Caregiver Program at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs’ Aging Center is providing much-needed support and counseling to those sitting at the bedsides of loved ones.

“Families are the dedicated caregivers, providing the majority of care for frail seniors, despite the lack of guidance and resources,” explains Miranda Shaw, Psy.D., Coordinator of the Aging Families and Caregiver Program. Many of these family members are seniors with chronic conditions themselves, or parents of school-aged children, struggling to juggle caregiving with careers and carpools.

Services at the Aging Center are based on the caregiver family therapy model developed by Dr. Sara Honn Qualls, professor of psychology and Director of the UCCS Gerontology Center. Shaw describes the approach as “helping family members identify challenges and resources, clarify values and strategies for addressing each challenge, restructure family roles, and balance caregiving with self-care.”

Self-care is a crucial element that is frequently neglected by caregivers as they focus time and energy on their family member. Often they become overwhelmed and begin to experience stress-driven illnesses or burnout. “Caregiver interventions benefit both the caregiver and the care recipient,” asserts Shaw. “Those that are most beneficial emphasize coping skills training and are tailored to the caregivers’ specific needs.”

Counseling, education, consultation, and referrals are part of the services that the Aging Center provides, in addition to coordinating with the care recipient’s physicians and providers to ensure continuity of care. Six to eight no-cost sessions are offered per year to caregivers 60 and over and/or those caring for a loved one at least 60 years old, thanks to funding by the Pikes Peak Area Agency on Aging.

The Aging Center administers nearly 2,000 service hours annually to caregiver clients; most are low income, under or uninsured, underserved seniors. Shaw stresses, “Our biggest challenge is that the demand continues to exceed resources. We maintain a waitlist averaging 40-50 clients, with many choosing to wait as long as 2-3 months until space becomes available.” To help alleviate long wait times, the Aging Center established a therapy group for those on the wait list and began offering caregiver workshops throughout the year to support those that need immediate assistance.

Care for the caregiver is often not part of the considerations made when confronted with an older loved one’s advanced chronic conditions. Understandably, most people focus on the patient’s needs while putting self-care on the back burner. Clients of the Aging Center’s Aging Families and Caregiver Program know better. Shaw shares a comment from a two-time client, a daughter tasked with caregiving for a second time after her father died: “I am currently taking care of my mother who has just been diagnosed with dementia. I now know that although this will be a painful journey, I am confident in my knowledge that the Aging Center will be, once again, my port in a storm.”

If you are the caregiver of an older adult, help is available. The Aging Center can evaluate a care recipient’s memory and decision-making capacity; distinguish normal from abnormal aging; provide strategies to caregivers for handling problems as an elderly family member declines; reduce caregiver burnout; engage families to work together; and link caregivers to other community resources.

Contact us at (719) 255-8002 or visit our web site at www.uccs.edu/agingcenter.

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