Linda Hopgood is a nurturer by nature.
Having worked for years as a social worker and a volunteer with local organizations for senior citizens, the North Side resident is used to caring for older adults. But when her 87-year-old father’s condition began to decline because of Alzheimer’s last year and juggling jobs became overwhelming, she decided to retire.
“He became my priority,” Hopgood said. “It was challenging in the way that I had to go from taking care of my own life to helping him as well. It has been an honor— but a challenge.”
Many caregivers in Milwaukee feel the same, said Becky Schmidt, outreach coordinator at the Milwaukee County Department on Aging, 1220 W. Vliet St.
“There is a great pride caregivers take in caring for a loved one,” she said, “but it can take a toll.”
According the National Center on Caregiving, evidence reveals that providing care for a loved one can cause harmful physical, mental and emotional consequences for the caregiver.
However, research also demonstrates that negative impacts on caregivers’ health and well-being can be alleviated by primary care interventions and assessments that address caregiver needs.
Hopgood turned to organizations where she had volunteered and found the Caregiver Support Network, an organization run through Milwaukee’s chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, 620 S. 76th St.
The Family Caregiver Support Network offers information, education and support services to assist caregivers of adults ages 60 and older, as well as older adults caring for loved ones with disabilities.
Kathy Czarnecki, the program’s manager, said it can be hard for people to self-identify as caregivers. The first step in assisting caregivers, she said, is encouraging them to open up and express what they need so that case managers can figure out how to help them best.
“People call, we talk about their situation, and we come up with a plan,” Czarnecki said. “Not me, we.”
Working together gives caregivers some control back in a situation that can feel chaotic, Czarnecki said.
Often, the plan calls for respite care paid for by funding and grants, Czarnecki said.
Respite care brings a professional caregiver into the picture to give unpaid family caregivers a break. It is one of the most important resources caregivers can use to take time for themselves or their own wellness. Receiving a respite care grant takes an expense off of the family and lessen their worries, Czarnecki said.
The National Family Caregiver Support Program and the Alzheimer’s Family and Caregiver Support are the two funding sources available for Milwaukee residents.
National Family Caregiver Support Program is a need-based option for caregivers, and funding varies on a case by case basis, Czarnecki said.
Alzheimer’s Family and Caregiver Support, which is specifically for caregivers who look after someone with Alzheimer’s or long-term dementia, can provide up to $4,000 a year for respite care or other support options.
Czarnecki and her team of two case managers are certified life coaches who assess a client’s situation in person or over the phone and determine what grants they are eligible for. They can also connect clients with the local personal care and home agencies that provide respite care to ensure that the professionals and care receivers are a good match.
“I am advocating for my caregivers but I am also teaching them to advocate for themselves,” Czarnecki said.
Hopgood is working with Czarnecki to create a new service called the Caregiver Coalition. The group, which will be made up of professionals and family caregivers in the Milwaukee area, will meet monthly to discuss the challenges caregivers face. It will also serve as a space for caregivers to learn more about how to navigate the legal and financial aspects of elder care.
“As a caregiver you need to take care of yourself,” Hopgood said. “I’ve seen both sides.”
Czarnecki encourages anyone caring for a parent, sibling, friend or spouse to connect with the Family Caregiver Support Network at 414-479-8800.
“We get what it’s like to be a caregiver, and we bring those skills and passions to our work,” she said.
Here’s a list of resources mentioned in this article:Resources mentioned in this article:
The Milwaukee County Department on Aging, 1220 W. Vliet St., serves as an entry point for enrolling in long-term care options such as Medicaid care programs and assisted living. It also connects residents to senior centers, community programs, transportation and other resources across the city. Call the Aging Resource Center at 414-289-6874 for more information.n. For family caregivers caring for someone under the age of 59, call the disability resource center at 414-289-6660.
The Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Support Network, 620 S. 76th St., is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 414-479-8800 if you would like to speak with a case manager.
Check the Milwaukee County Resource Data Base for a comprehensive list of agencies that offer short and long-term support.
Choose a category of your needs and type in your ZIP code on the Senior Resources website to find agencies and assistance near you.
St Ann Center for Intergenerational Care, 2450 W. North Ave., offers caregiver support groups, pastoral care, spiritual services and more. Check out its website or call 414-210-2450 for more information.
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