By Jennifer FitzPatrick

Special to Chesapeake 360

Caregiving for an older loved one is a tough job. Whether your older loved one has a dementia diagnosis like Alzheimer’s disease, congestive heart failure or is recovering from hip replacement surgery, caregiving can be downright exhausting. Not only is it time-consuming and stressful, it typically becomes more demanding as your loved one ages. That’s why it’s important to shop early and often for programs and services to help you along the way.

Many caregivers of older loved ones feel they have things under control and that may be true — for now. But most caregivers are going to require at least some help at some point. Here are five tips so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute in crisis:

1. Get to know your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA)

The first call you should make is to your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). Area Agencies on Aging receive federal, state and local funds to provide services to older adults and their family members.

Residents of Queen Anne’s County can contact Department of Community Services Area Agency on Aging at 410-758-0848; Kent, Caroline and Talbot County residents should call Upper Shore Aging, Inc. at 410-778-6000. Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset and Worcester residents’ agency is MAC, Inc. at 410-742-0505.

While your local Area Agency on Aging won’t be able to solve every problem you may encounter, they can either provide a direct service to meet your need or point you in the right direction to a more appropriate service. Call them now, before you need them. Take a look at their brochures and get to know a contact person there.

2. Consider who in your friends and family network might be willing to help you in the future.

If your older loved one’s condition worsens at some point, who can you count on to help you out? What friends, family, or neighbors might be willing to lend a hand? Make a list of at least 20 people who care about you and a list of 20 people who care about your older loved one. Keep this list handy for the day you need a hand.

3. Go to caregiving conferences in your area. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association offers conferences in Salisbury and Easton each spring. The Alzheimer’s Association also offers conferences every fall alternating each year between Queen Anne’s and Kent Counties. Attending such an event is often the most efficient way to become familiar with the other resources in your community like government agencies and private organizations like home care agencies, hospice, nursing homes, assisted living, elder law attorneys and medical providers. Often employees of these organizations will be vendors, sponsors, attendees or even speakers at such events.

4. Schedule meetings with providers you might consider working with someday. Ask some home care companies or assisted living providers to meet with you so you can see what they have to offer. You are not wasting their time, even if you may not utilize their services for a while. Many assisted living providers, for example, report that many people who tour don’t move their older loved one in for several years.

5. Keep all your information together. Get yourself a big folder or padded envelope. In this folder put all the brochures, business cards and phone numbers you pick up along the way. Most caregivers report wishing they had put all of these resources in one place from the beginning so they could easily access them when they were eventually needed.

We all make better decisions when we research options ahead of time. Don’t wait for a crisis to start considering what caregiving resources may help you in the future.

Jennifer FitzPatrick, MSW, LCSW-C is the founder of Jenerations Health Education, an education consultant for the Alzheimer’s Association and a gerontology instructor at Johns Hopkins University. You can contact her at www.jenerationshealth.com or @fitzpatrickjen.

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