By Maria Ledger – CEO, My Choice Family Care

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to salute family members who dedicate so much of their time to caring for loved ones.

Chances are, you know someone who is currently a caregiver or who has been a caregiver in the past, and you will likely know or be a caregiver in the future. With a wave of baby boomers approaching retirement age, the need for caregivers is only going to continue to grow.

Consider this: according to a 2013 AARP report, 578,000 caregivers in Wisconsin provided about 538,000,000 hours of unpaid care to seniors and children and adults with disabilities—which adds up to more than $7 billion in unpaid care. This extraordinary effort is often under-recognized as well, especially for those trying to balance the demands of caring for a loved one with a job and family.

That was the situation that Shelly Dinkle found herself in after her husband, Kevin, suffered an illness that made it impossible for him to continue working. Kevin was still very young and required an incredible amount of care, but Shelly still had a job and two children under age four.

Even finding an appropriate place that could care for Kevin was a struggle. Nursing homes generally serve people in their 70s or 80s, and Kevin was decades younger. Shelly was at her wits end when she finally sat down with a phone book and started calling hospitals, agencies, and anyone she could think of who might be able to help.

One of the last places she called was her local Aging and Disability Resource Center, where she learned about an initiative program called Family Care. Designed to get people out of nursing homes and into group homes, Family Care gave Shelly hope.

It took time, and Shelly had many questions about costs and benefits, but Family Care was able to help Kevin move into an appropriate group home. It also helped the family get the medical equipment Kevin needed and transportation to his many doctors’ appointments.

“I think Family Care is truly phenomenal. You have a strong case management team, and there is no way we could have functioned as a family without it,” Shelly said. “Transportation alone for going to medical appointments is huge. When Kevin needs to go to a medical appointment, I can schedule with the group home, have them bring him to the appointment, and I can meet him there.”

After the appointment, Shelly can return to work knowing Kevin has transportation back to the group home. “I would be missing a tremendous amount of work if he didn’t have that,” she said. “I would have had to quit my job, no doubt about it.”

She concludes: “I never lose sight of how fortunate we are. It’s been a long journey, but I’m thankful for the help.”

Speaking of giving thanks, November is also a time for families to gather. If you know a caregiver, thank them—and perhaps give them the gift of spending a few hours caring for their loved one so they can take some time for themselves.

And, if you notice that someone in your family has become more frail or forgetful since the last holiday get together, resolve to discuss it as a family. Make a plan for meeting their needs. If your loved one is an older adult, an adult with a disability, or has long-term care needs and meets the financial guidelines, they may be a candidate for Family Care. For more specific information, contact your local Aging and Disability Resource Center.

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