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Prepare to Care: Start the Conversation and Where to Find Tools to Help

Since the establishment of Age Friendly Seattle two years ago I have championed making Seattle a more age-friendly city for all of our residents. An important part of this work is our day to day effort to include our seniors and disabled neighbors when making decisions.  This goes for major decisions like transportation options and city infrastructure.  It’s also true for community outreach and engagement on the micro level.  Part of making Seattle age-friendly is intentionally seeking out those who can otherwise feel left out or overlooked and recognize their importance.  “I feel invisible” is the phrase I hear frequently. (See:  Age Friendly: Combating Social Isolation )

One aspect of building an Age Friendly city is to offer support for the individuals and family members who provide the care for those who need it.  Across our country an estimated 44 million people are caring right now for a loved one.  Since those who  do this work often find themselves isolated or exhausted, November is designated National Caregivers month to lift up their work, connect them with services, and offer them ways and tools to care for themselves.

I have spoken with dozens of caregivers who contribute mightily to the quality of life for their loved ones, often working long and unpredictable hours.  Day to day caregiving is demanding both physically and emotionally; I know first- hand when caring for my 90-year-old father who lived with us.

The personal challenges experienced by the caregiver can include not only financial demands, but the out-of-control feelings arising from exhaustion or the simple lack of time to do what needs to be done for themselves.

Unlike preparing for the birth of a child, few of us really prepare to be a caregiver.  Yet, the vast majority of us will find ourselves either needing or offering care.  Where to start?

AARP has created a Caregiving Prepare to Care Guide to help families start the conversation about what is needed to be successful. There are five steps recommended: 1. Starting the conversation before a crisis happens. 2. Create your team and decide in advance who will provide care. 3. Make a plan about what type of care will be provided and when. 4. Access additional professional support to enhance the caregiving experience for all. 5. Care for the provider is the most overlooked component of a successful experience. This guide comes with checklists and easy to follow steps to help outline what you need to do to provide the best possible care, including how to care for yourself.

If you find yourself in the middle of caregiving right now and need support, Seattle and King County offer Community Living Connections.   This organization provides advocacy and help with locating programs, services and public benefits.  The consultation is professional and free of charge and they have developed a network of ethnically diverse partners to help where needed.

The advocates are skilled in asking the right questions to identify and help create a care plan unique to your and your family’s needs. Depending upon eligibility some of the following services may be available: care coordination, family support, dementia care training, transportation, even modest home repairs such as attic, wall and crawl space insulation. Please visit Community Living Connections, phone: 1-844-348-5464 to get started.

To spotlight this work,  I hosted an Age Friendly Seattle Lunch and Learn on November 28, 2018 .  My goal was to make caregiving a community and enduring conversation, bringing to light the challenges and supportive services available to families and unpaid primary caregivers regardless of economic need.

I was joined by Cathy Knight, Director of Seattle’s Department of Human Services /Aging and Disability Services, Audrey Buehring,  Deputy Director Human Services, Cathy MacCaul, AARP Washington State Advocacy Director, Amanda Bates and Karen Winston of Aging and Disability Services.  They emphasized how important  family caregivers are to the success of the long-term care system and where unpaid primary caregivers can get needed support services.

To learn more about these free services available to you, please watch the lunch and learn on Seattle Channel.

By Sally Bagshaw and Lena Tebeau

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