SELAH, Wash. — When Larry Federspiel suffered a major stroke last summer, a doctor took his wife, Sandra, aside with a dire prognosis: Larry would need a feeding tube and round-the-clock care at a nursing home.
Since then, Larry has made an astounding recovery and returned home in November, where his wife of 58 years cares for him. The 80-year-old continues to improve with physical and occupational therapy, along with once-a-week visits from an employee of the Aging & Disability Resource Center in Yakima.
“I have assistance from a young man on Wednesday afternoons. He’s just wonderful to help me with my tasks. He’s more than willing to do anything needed with my husband,” said Sandra Federspiel. “For example, he is more than willing to vacuum; if I need bathrooms cleaned, a floor mopped, those are things he will help me do. If I go out and get groceries and they are heavy, he is willing to get them out of the car. He lifts sacks of chicken feed. It’s wonderful.”
That kind of help is proving a lifesaver for Sandra, 77, and others who know firsthand the often daunting challenges faced by family caregivers.
Often unaware of options for help, the caretakers can suffer from depression or guilt while getting little assistance for what they believe is their personal responsibility.
“Caregivers will do what must be done until they can’t anymore. They’ll just keep going until their own health gives out,” said Lynne D. Van Horn, of Southeast Washington Aging and Long Term Care Council of Governments, which operates in partnership with eight Eastern Washington counties, including Yakima where it oversees the resource center.
Without help, caretakers often suffer. Seniors who provide care are 63 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who are not providing care, Van Horn said.
The resource center provides a range of help for caregivers that will allow their loved ones to remain in their homes and communities as long as possible. And that need for help is increasing as more people become family caregivers.
Along with the so-called “sandwich generation” of adults caring for their children and their parents, some are caring for a spouse or grandchild.
It’s estimated that 83 percent of people in their peak working years are likely to be caregivers at some point.
When cognitive or memory issues arise in those they are caring for, unpaid caregivers face more, sometimes seemly insurmountable, challenges. And the number of people suffering from such issues are rising as the population ages.
The Institute for Dementia Research & Prevention estimates there are at least 5 million Americans with age-related dementias.
It is estimated that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 10 men over the age of 55 will develop dementia in their lifetime, the institute notes.
When occupational therapist and dementia care expert Teepa Snow spoke at the Yakima Convention Center last week, nearly all 460 available seats were filled. Organizers weren’t surprised.
“There’s a huge need. I’ve done presentations on dementia because I was trained by Teepa,” Van Horn said. “We cover eight counties, from Kittitas to Asotin. Even in small counties, you get a crowd. People want to know. ... They need to know.”
A statewide survey of family caregivers showed their No. 1 need was for information on what help might be available — a greater need than requests for financial help, a break or counseling, Van Horn said.
That’s where the Aging & Disability Resource Center can make a difference for all kinds of people, from those who live alone and could use assistance to caregivers of loved ones with dementia.
“We have so many different programs now. We have the caregiver support program. ... We’re also helping anybody that’s coming home from the hospital that’s a senior or disabled, references from the hospitals, also people that walk in the door and phone calls,” said NaDean Watkins, case manager for the Aging & Disability Resource Center.
Most people who call the resource center seek information about something specific, such as Meals on Wheels for a parent. That’s when center employees not only provide information, but will offer help for the caregiver.
“We say ‘Yes we can help with you that, but you sound like a caregiver to me.’ They say, ‘I’m just her daughter,’” for example, Van Horn said. Center employees then tell them they can get support as caregivers and provide more information.
That’s so important, Watkins stressed.
“A lot of times caregivers just get so over their heads on day-to-day care, they don’t realize there are other things out there to take that pressure off,” she said.
Along with helping caregivers, the center assists those who are aging alone by providing information about community resources. Employees also help people apply for Medicaid or food stamps, receive assistance with bills or get into assisted living communities.
“It makes a huge difference, what we can do — just something simple like housework (can) keep them in (their homes) longer,” she said. “I just want people to know this is out there for them. It can be the difference.”
The caregiver support services have definitely made a difference for Sandra, who occasionally struggles with fatigue after getting up more often than usual at night to help her husband.
“I get awfully tired in the day with lack of rest. That’s one drawback. That’s one way that the afternoon, getting out, is therapeutic,” she said of the Wednesday visits.
“I just appreciate the relief that it gives me, a little bit of time away and I know Larry is safe and well taken care of while I’m gone.”