So far, 262 people on the Kenai Peninsula who provide care to disabled or elderly family members know where to go when they themselves need support, but many others do not, according to the program coordinator for the National Family Caregiver Support Program.
Patricia Stringer told members of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday that many caregivers don't realize they need a break until they either burn out or develop their own health issues.
"We're here to provide resources, offer support and possibly offer respite for family caregivers," said Stringer, whose program is based at the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center.
Respite for caregivers comes in the form of placing a professional caregiver in the home so the family caregiver can get away for short periods of time to run errands, do shopping or simply take a break, and still know their family member is in good hands, Stringer said.
"Maybe it's once a week so the caregiver can go to church, or a 24-hour period to allow the caregiver to go recharge their batteries," she said.
The National Family Caregiver Support Program is for people who care for family members who are 60 years old or older with cognitive disorders or in frail health, and for younger people with Alz-heimer's disease or other disorders, such as dementia or Parkinson's disease.
"People don't realize they're caregivers, but everybody is," Stringer said.
"We identify caregivers through any means we can doctors' offices, hospitals, anything," she said.
Stringer said the program offers a "survival package" for caregivers that includes a resource manual showing them how they can access needed services.
While she does not give medical or legal advice to them, she can direct them to those types of resources in the community.
The Soldotna program covers people "from Hope to Homer and Seward, across the inlet to Tyonek and everything in between," Stringer said.
Connie Stevens, the outreach coordinator for the Soldotna caregivers program, said November has been designated National Family Caregiver Month, and she contacted Gov. Frank Murkowski and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley to get the same designation for the state and borough, respectively.
Bagley made that proclamation at the chamber luncheon Tuesday.
In addition, a Caregiver Appreciation Day has been slated for Nov. 20 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Soldotna senior center, during which caregivers can receive information on such things as medical equipment, Lifeline emergency alert services, wellness programs, caregiver support and training.
The program also is organizing the national Safe Return Program on the peninsula to assure that family members with Alzheimer's who wander away from home can be safely returned by law enforcement agencies.
More information about the programs can be obtained by calling Stringer or Stevens at 262-1280 or toll-free at (866) 776-8210.
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