National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

Elder Caregivers Get Preview Support in County Workshops

By Charlie Ban

St. Claire County, Ill.

The lunch is digested and gone in a few hours, but the lessons caregivers learn in St. Claire County, Ill.’s lunchtime workshops last a lot longer.

The county’s human services office has joined with the St. Clair County Office on Aging to sponsor workshops to refresh caregivers and prepare prospective caregivers for the challenges ahead.

Judy Greenberg served as a caregiver to her mother 20 years ago, before she came to work for the county human services office, where she helps coordinate the series.

"I wish I had known about the emotional toll that my brother, and his wife and I were about to experience," she said. "These workshops help you prepare for those challenges, because as a caregiver, you feel like no matter what you do, it’s never enough. These workshops bring people together and let them know they aren’t the only ones going through it."

The St. Clair County Mental Health Board provides a box lunch to participants during hour-long lunchtime sessions.

Speakers include an older-adult counselor associated with the senior center and an elder law attorney, who advise participants pro bono about what they will need to master when caring for an aging family member or friend.

Most of the participants are children of aging parents, with a smattering of care-giving siblings.

Most of the program’s cost is for the lunches provided to the participants.

Question-and-answer periods follow each presentation, and participants may make appointments with the speakers for a follow-up visit and one-on-one counseling.

Some sensitive topics, including how to transition to a nursing home or when someone should stop driving, are addressed.

About 100 people have attended the workshops since their inception in 2007. The county generally offers six workshops a year, at a variety of locations.

"We’re looking for other places to reach out to different groups, looking at different places to give the workshops," Greenburg said. "The venue really does affect the segment of the population that attends."

The county has held workshops at senior centers, churches and the county office building, but has been unsuccessful holding them at libraries.

"We’ll look at what other venues we can use to reach different kinds of people in the future," she said.

Participants receive a comprehensive resource guide that summarizes the workshop’s lessons and provides a directory of useful contacts in the county system. An easy-to-follow procedure helps caregivers consolidate important records.

Overall, the workshops help caregivers create a strong framework, including legal procedures such as establishing durable power of attorney, a path for the future, which may include selecting an assisted-care facility, and outlets for the caregivers themselves to sustain their effort.

"Addressing the stress level in caregivers is crucial," Greenburg said. "If they aren’t healthy, they will be less able to help the person on whom they are focused."