USA Today Spotlight on Caregiving

 

 

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Each November for National Caregiver Month, Media Planet teams with caregiving organizations such as the Caregiver Action Network and experts to showcase the issues of our nation’s 65 million caregivers. This year’s cover story features Montel Williams, TV personality, radio talk show host and actor, a champion for those with mulitple sclerosis (which he lives with) and our nation’s family caregivers (which he became when caring for a daughter with lymphoma).

The special supplement is featured in the November 11, 2016 issue of USA Today as well as seen online at FutureofPersonalHealth.com and other partner sites such as CNN.com.

Our CEO Sherri Snelling is one of the expert contributors to this special caregiving issue. Her articles can be read by clicking on the links below:

 

Click here to read Sherri’s article on a new era of on demand caregiving help:

Caregivers On Demand Help Is Here At Last

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Click here to read Sherri’s article on how to have the CARE Conversation:

How to Have the CARE Conversation

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Click here to read Sherri’s article about the volunteerism spirit of family caregivers:

Paying It Forward – Caregivers Are a Volunteer Force

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2015 USA Today and Media Planet Caregiving Feature

Sherri contributed to the same annual feature supplement last year with these articles:

How to Avoid the Caregiving Cost Drain

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7 Tips to Avoid Caregiver Burn-out

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Silver Surfers: How Technology Helps Seniors and Caregivers

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2013 USA Today and Media Planet Caregiving Feature

Sherri also contributed to the 2013 Caregiving Feature Issue. She provided excerpted celebrity interviews with Holly Robinson Peete and Joan Lunden from her book, A Cast of Caregivers, as the cover story and feature articles for the March 2013 caregiving supplement for USA Today weekend magazine.  The supplement also included the Caregiving Club’s Me Time Monday program.  Read the full supplement here: Caregiving Supplement March 2013

Want to Spread Holiday Cheer? Help Deliver a Little ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ to a Hungry Senior

The following was exclusively written for PBS/Next Avenue

It was a low point for Jenny Montalbano back in 1996.  She was divorcing her husband and feeling all alone.  She knew she had to get out of the house and do something to keep her mind and hands occupied.  She found her solace in the preparation kitchen of God’s Love We Deliver (GLWD), a nonprofit meal delivery volunteer organization servicing greater New York City and parts of New Jersey founded in 1985.

“I was volunteering my time in the SOHO food kitchen and even though I was helping them, God’s Love We Deliver really helped me through a very tough time – it became my emotional rescue,” says Montalbano.  Having grown up in a traditional Italian American family, Montalbano shares, “I grew up in a household where food was comfort so helping to give meals back to others has become my passion these last 16 years.”

According to the Meals on Wheels Association of America (MOWAA), more than 5-6 million seniors over age 60 go hungry every day.  Many are homebound, unable to grocery shop or prepare meals for themselves because of things such as painful arthritis, macular degeneration or lack of energy to cook if they are battling a devastating disease such as cancer or COPD.  MOWAA, the national arm of a vast network of 5,000 local community agencies, delivers one million meals daily all through the efforts of its nationwide volunteer network.

For many family caregivers, especially the 7-8 million who live long-distance from their loved one, having a nutritious, fresh meal delivered to a loved one is a gift that is truly comfort for all.  Some organizations, such as Feeding America, or the many local food banks that feed the hungry and homeless, require the recipient be able to come get their meal or prepare their meal.  But many seniors are homebound and struggle with cooking so the prepared meal delivered daily becomes a life-saving solution.

“We usually talk about senior hunger issues during hard economic times and then the story is over, but the fact of the matter is hunger is not dependent on economic times any more than it is dependent on the weather,” says Enid Borden, ceo and president of the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger.  She also says while poverty is a predictor for senior hunger, this issue is becoming more of a middle class issue.  Statistics show 50 percent of those older Americans going hungry are above the national poverty level.  In fact, a MOWAA report found 1 in 9 seniors are “food insecure” and the most at-risk are baby boomers age 60-64.

Part of the issue according to Borden is many of these hungry seniors are homebound so we don’t see them in the course of our daily life the way we might see news reports of food kitchens. “Seniors who face the threat of hunger are really the hidden hungry – hidden from society in terms of their inability to be outside in our communities but also because many seniors perceive a stigma with this issue and they don’t talk about it.”

Home Alone

In addition to the stigma and health risks, another issue associated with senior hunger can be isolation.   The MOWAA report found single seniors are most at risk for food insecurity.

One of the biggest concerns caregivers may have about their older loved one is isolation, particularly those loved ones living alone at home because they recently lost a spouse or partner.  When an older person does not have someone to talk to, does not attend church or synagogue or is not seeing family and friends regularly, this can lead to isolation and ultimately depression and other health issues such as not eating. Seeing a daily volunteer who delivers meals and checks in on seniors can have a tremendous positive impact.

“Many people don’t realize that sometimes the meal delivery driver is the only social visit a senior may receive during the day,” says Em Findley, communications coordinator for God’s Love We Deliver (GLWD).  “That is why we take great pride in not only delivering nutritious, delicious meals but also bringing a smiling face to the door to brighten a senior’s day.”

Caroline Sorensen, a high school senior in New York who volunteers with Meals on Wheels, recently told me, “I love knowing I made someone’s day easier and happier.” She has been a teen volunteer for Meals on Wheels through her school for four years and she has a favorite older delivery recipient.  “Doris always comments on my hair, it is long and silky and we talk about the latest in hair fashion,” says Caroline.  “She laughs that her hair is not quite that pretty anymore – but instead of making her sad it’s a fun conversation we have every time I see her.  And, she always wants to make me tea so we sit for a few minutes and talk – I always feel good after I leave her.”

When disasters occur, such as Hurricane Sandy which devastated New Jersey and New York’s five boroughs especially Staten Island, Queens and the Jersey Shore this October, meal delivery services struggle to maintain the sustenance their clients need.

“We lost power for one week after Sandy hit,” says Findley of GLWD.  “However, due to the herculean efforts of our volunteers, we created 2,300 ‘Sandy bags’ of perishable food and got them to local Red Cross shelters and local churches to continue to help and we were still able to get 8,000 meals donated and delivered.”

Soul Food

“Food is both love and medicine,” says GLWD’s Findley.  Since drivers often spend a few minutes talking to the meal recipient, they bring both food and friendship to lonely seniors.  “One client told our driver, ‘I can feel the love in every bite.’”

Kitchen of God's Love We Deliver (Christian Gattan)

Kitchen of God’s Love We Deliver (Christian Gattan)

What makes GLWD unique is each of the 20,000 meals they deliver every week is customized for clients, there is no wait list and no age requirement (to qualify for Meals on Wheels you must be age 60 or over or live in senior housing).  In fact, 78 percent of their clients are age 50+ and many live in Manhattan where volunteers deliver meals on foot.  They have nutritional counselors who talk to clients about special needs and personalize each meal whether it’s kosher meals, diabetic meals, gluten-free meals or even pureeing meals for those clients who have trouble chewing.  As with MOWAA, meals can also be delivered for the family caregiver.

“We know sometimes the caregiver is at much at risk for hunger or poor nutrition as the senior,” says GLWD’s Findley.  “Caregivers are often struggling with financial issues, physical caregiving and other challenges – if we can provide the meals to keep both caregiver and care recipient nourished that is part of our mission.”  Findley reports over the last two years GLWD has seen a 40 percent increase in requests for meals for the family caregiver of those clients over age 65.

In addition, meal delivery may be the answer in helping caregivers keep an older loved one living in the home they love instead of contemplating nursing home living. A recent report from Brown University researchers found the states who subsidized meal delivery costs through the Older Americans Act have a correlation to a reduction in the percentage of relatively healthy seniors in nursing homes.  Published in Health Services Research, researchers found for instance,  “in Washington state, which spends just $8 on subsidized meals for every senior state resident, nearly 17 percent of the nursing home population is made up of those with minimal health needs,” meaning they may need low-care and not the full suite of services nursing homes provide.

Jenny Montalbano and her mom

Jenny Montalbano and her mom

A few years ago, Montalbano’s mom developed stage 4 cancer.  Montalbano had just started a new full-time job so she turned to GLWD to help deliver meals for her mom for the last month of her life so Montalbano could keep her at home.

“I’ve been on both sides – as giving and receiving – of the special gifts God’s Love We Deliver provides,” says Montalbano.  “Nothing lifts your spirit more than to volunteer to feed a senior.  As a caregiver, I’ll always cherish that my mom saw a friendly driver who came to the door every day to bring her a meal and a smile.  I tell people God’s Love We Deliver was a God-send. They fed my mom physically but they fed both of us emotionally.”

How You Can Help This Holiday Season – Eat, Pray, Love

In her best-selling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert discovers one of the best gifts in life is giving to someone else in need. If you want to deliver a little soul food this holiday season, here are ways you can volunteer to spread the holiday spirit:

God’s Love We Deliver  – looking for volunteers for Christmas Eve and day to help with deliveries in New York’s five boroughs and neighboring New Jersey

Meals on Wheels Association of America – find a local chapter through this national site or donate – $7 feeds a hungry senior for the day

Check with your local faith-based organization and visit the National Volunteer Caregiving Network to find a local meal delivery program through faith-based groups in your area – volunteer drivers are often needed

Donate $1 to the National Council on Aging (NCOA) hungry senior campaign and NCOA will connect a vulnerable older adult to $40 annual benefits to help pay for food

The Votes are Counted – Now Caregivers Need to Speak up

After a long, hard battle President Obama has gained a second term as Commander in Chief.  We heard from the TV news pundits this election was a turning point in understanding the needs of a changing America.  I hope valuing family caregivers becomes part of that change.  We need to encourage the White House, Congress and all sectors of society to support those caregiving Americans who represent 80 percent of the long-term care workforce in our country – but how?

We have 65 million caregivers in this country – 1 in 3 U.S. households where 66 percent of all caregivers are women who spend on average 20 hours a week caring for an older or ill loved one.  In addition, 24 million Americans are considered  Sandwich Generation – squeezed between caring for children still at home and simultaneously caring for an aging parent.  And 7 out of 10 caregivers are juggling these family responsibilities while working full or part time.

What we all need to remember is President Obama and our government work for us:  we the people, we the caregivers.  November is when we elect our officials but it is also National Family Caregiver Month.  If you are one of the “65 million” I encourage you to find your voice as a caregiver:

  1. “I am a caregiver” – caregivers need to self-identify as a caregiver.  Collectively as a group we need to develop the mentality that in order to get any attention in Washington you have to have them see you as a force to be considered.  AARP and the Ad Council recently kicked off a three-year public service announcement campaign to help caregivers self-identify.  If you are interested in understanding how government and state officials are supporting caregivers, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance web site where updates are provided on caregiving legislation.
  2. Seek support on the job – with the economy in a still-too-slow recovery, we need to hang onto or finally find a job.  This is difficult for caregivers since they already have a job – caring for their loved one.  However, if you are employed, you need to speak up at work to get your employer to provide support that helps you and their bottom line (through improved health care costs and increased productivity).  In a recent report, the Family and Work Institute found 77 percent of employers are offering flex time – an increase from 66 percent in 2005.  Ask your employer if this or other benefits for caregivers are available.
  3. Ask for and accept help – we need to come together as neighbors, friends and communities to help one another.  There are numerous ways to volunteer to help caregivers shoulder the burden.  Lotsa Helping Hands which powers online communities for caregiver help and volunteerism launched its Year of Helping Hands to Address the Caregiving Crisis to create consistent momentum around caregiver support.

I join the caregiving advocates who encourage caregivers to speak up and let policymakers and other leaders in society hear your voice in order to receive the support and programs so critical to the long-term care in this country. Perhaps we need to start a caregiving political party to get attention like they did in Australia with the Carers Alliance Party.  What we can do is vote with our voices to ensure caregivers win support for the future.

Sandwich Generation Juggling Act – the 3 Cs (Children, Career, Caregiving)

July is Sandwich Generation Month celebrating the 24 million Americans who are literally sandwiched between caring for two generations.  Representing approximately 38 percent of all caregivers, Sandwich Generation members are still parenting children living at home while they also care for older parents who now need more help.

Because Sandwich Generation caregivers tend to be in their 40s, 50s and even 60s, seven out of 10 are also juggling a career along with child rearing and caregiving.  With so many balls in the air, the Sandwich Generation caregivers often feel overwhelmed, burned out and stressed to their limits.  These caregivers are caught in a three-ring circus of children, career and caregiving, and they are the star juggling act.   At some point, the ball that gets dropped is the one that says self-care.

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, the typical Sandwich Generation caregiver profile is:

  • 48-year-old woman
  • Cares for her 74-year-old mother
  • Has children under 18 at home
  • Married and works either full or part-time
  • Spends up to 10 percent of the household annual income on care-related costs for her parent
  • Suffers from stress and burn-out and often some guilt
  • Lack of time for self results in health impacts like insomnia, poor nutrition, little or no exercise, missed doctor or dental appointments and ultimately ongoing stress and even depression

The familial responsibilities can be overwhelming – soccer schedules and after school homework for the kids, doctor appointments or emergency calls from your mom at all hours, your husband feeling neglected, your boss feeling like you are slacking, your friends feeling like you dropped off the face of the earth (and some days you wish you could).  The balls you are juggling feel more like 50-pound weights.

Sandwich Generation and Stress

Unfortunately when it comes to health risks – Sandwich Generation female caregivers are more at risk.  Our society has long held that women traditionally fill the caregiver role – in fact 66 percent of all caregivers are women.   While more and more men are becoming primary caregivers, most are backing up a wife who is the multi-tasking manic.  Because half of the U.S. workforce is women, men are picking up the slack in caring for the kids or managing some of the household chores while a wife cares for her mom or dad.  But, the emotional and often physical toll of caregiving still falls to women and stress becomes their constant companion.  This stress comes from being S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-D way too thin in all your responsibilities.  Your obligations are overwhelming and everything is a priority.

 In their book So Stressed, Dr. Stephanie McClellan and Dr. Beth Hamilton found that the evolution of women’s biology over the last 100 years have not caught up with the expanded roles that women play in today’s world including motherhood, career woman and caregiving.  They further explain that the advances of communication technology while helping us in some areas of life have actually negatively impacted our bodies’ defenses to protect and heal because the constant disturbance of our peace with texts, emails or cell phone calls puts us on high alert at all times and actually isolates us rather than connects us.

 Me Time Monday

One of the ways to de-stress is through Me Time Monday videos and tips created by the Caregiving Club as part of the awareness and education effort for the Caregivers’ Monday campaign from The Healthy Monday non-profit organization.  A study from the Commonwealth Fund shows that family caregivers are twice as likely as the general population to develop multiple chronic illnesses earlier in life, partially linked to the prolonged stress that can be common when you are a caregiver.   The Monday Campaigns public health initiative started in 2005 in association with Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse Newhouse School of Public Communications.  It is based on research by Johns Hopkins showing that Monday has special significance as the beginning of the week – a critical unit of time when planning our lives.   The research indicates that more people are likely to start and stick to a new plan on Monday rather than any other day of the week – whether it’s beginning a new diet, ceasing to smoke, scheduling doctor appointments or starting a new exercise regime.  By joining together with the Caregivers’ Monday campaign effort, Caregiving Club underscores its mission to help caregivers balance self-care while caring for a loved one.

Circle of Friends

Sandwich Generation caregivers struggle to find the minutes needed for Me Time but there are online communities where they can find volunteer help so they can get a break.  In many ways when a crisis event happens, caregivers are surrounded with well-meaning family and friends who ask, “What can I do to help?”  Most caregivers don’t have a list in hand to give to someone with exactly the kind of help they need.  In addition, coordinating all these requests is beyond the scope of reason for any caregiver at that moment.  Until now.  Online sites including Lotsa Helping Hands, CaringBridge and CareZone, have been created to help caregivers get the support and the break they need and give family and friends a place to create a “circle of support.”

“More than one million volunteers have joined Lotsa Helping Hands private communities to perform millions of tasks including:  meal delivery for a care recipient or a caregiver’s family if they are busy with care-related duties; laundry; providing rides for seniors to the doctor or to get the kids to soccer if a caregiver has other responsibilities,” says Brooks Kenny, chief marketing officer for Lotsa Helping Hands.  They also partner with more than 50 non-profit organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Family Caregivers Association.    “Whatever, wherever, whenever the caregiver cannot get to something the circle of care community volunteers fill that gap by performing that task – all from a very detailed online Health Calendar that was created with the input of professional nurses and family caregivers.”  Lotsa also recently launched their “Open” communities where local community residents can volunteer to help a caregiver and their family even if the volunteer does not personally know the family.

Caregivers I have talked to often say their caregiving is a “labor of love.”  This July as we celebrate Sandwich Generation caregivers, let’s labor to give them some love back by lending a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on or a voice at the other end of the line that will just listen.