Extension Programs Help Family Caregivers Take Care of Themselves

AMES, Iowa — Roughly a third of Iowa’s population provides care for older adults. During National Family Caregivers Month in November and throughout the year, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach programs help empower family caregivers of older adults to take better care of themselves.

“Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who heads the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, probably said it best. She said there are only four kinds of people in the world — those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers,” noted Donna Donald, an ISU Extension and Outreach family life specialist.

“This rings true with the more than 65 million family caregivers across the country as they fulfill this vital role in their families,” Donald said.

One third of Iowa’s population is approaching retirement. Fifteen percent of Iowans are 65 years of age or older, and 88 of Iowa’s 99 counties in 2030 will have more than 20 percent of their population age 65 and older.

Providing care for older adults can take an emotional, physical and social toll on caregivers, as well as impacting their finances and work life, Donald said.

“Family caregiving is different today than in the past, because caregivers may be dealing with on-going chronic illnesses rather than acute illnesses. The caregiving may be longer and more intense. In addition, today’s caregivers frequently are older and they are more likely to be caring for a family member who has dementia. Long distance caregiving also is on the rise, because the older family member who needs care doesn’t live in the same community as the family caregiver,” Donald explained.

ISU Extension and Outreach provides access to three programs that assist family caregivers.

Through Powerful Tools for Caregivers, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/families/ptc-tools, caregivers learn techniques for taking care of themselves. These techniques or tools include how to reduce stress; change negative self-talk; communicate feelings and needs to others; set limits and ask for help; deal with emotions such as anger, guilt, and depression; and make tough caregiving decisions. Classes are scheduled in local communities throughout the year.

Caregiving Relationships: Conversations on Aging, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/families/caregiving, is designed to help family members recognize how caregiving affects their relationships within the family. The two-part workshop also builds talking and listening skills for addressing changing needs in later life.

Extension professionals throughout the United States contribute to eXtension Family Caregiving, http://www.extension.org/family_caregiving/. This Web resource offers frequently asked questions, articles on caregiving topics, learning opportunities through online learning activities and state-specific family caregiver demographic fact sheets. Family caregivers can access information and resources when answers are needed, regardless of the time of day or person’s location.

For more information about any of these resources, contact Donna Donald at ddonald@iastate.edu or 641-446-4723.