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Tips and tools for family caregivers can lighten load

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Dear Savvy Senior: Can you recommend any resources that offer help to family caregivers? I’ve been taking care of my 86-year-old mother and could use some help. — Burned-Out Brenda

Dear Brenda: Caring for an aging parent or other loved one over a period of time can be challenging both physically and mentally. Fortunately, there are a number of tips and services you can turn to that can help lighten the load. Here are several to consider.

>> Assemble a care team: A good first step is to put together a network of people including family, friends and even neighbors that you can call on to help out when you can’t be there or need a break.

>> Tap local services: Many communities offer a range of free or subsidized services that help seniors and caregivers by providing services such as delivered meals, transportation, senior companion services and more. Call 211 to find out what’s available in your community, or call AARP’s caregiving resource center (877-333-5885), which provides referrals to local resources.

>> Use respite: Respite services can provide short-term care to your mom so you can take some time off. To locate services in your area, try the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center at

>> Hire in-home help: You might want to consider hiring a part-time home-care aide who can help with things like preparing meals, housekeeping or personal care. Costs can run anywhere from $12 to $30 an hour depending on where you live and the qualifications of the aide. To find help through an agency, use Medicare’s search tool Or to find someone on your own, which is a more affordable way to go, try websites like or

>> Use financial tools: If you’re handling your mom’s finances, you can make things easier by arranging direct deposit for her income sources and set up automatic payments for her utilities and other routine bills. Also, consider setting up your mom’s online banking service at her bank so you can pay her other bills and monitor her account anytime. If you want or need help, there are professional daily money managers (see to locate someone) who can do it for you. They charge between $60 and $150 per hour.

Also, if your mom is lower-income, use Benefits, a free, confidential website that will help you locate financial assistance programs that can help pay for her medications, utilities, health care and other needs.

>> Get insurance help: If you have questions about what Medicare or Medicaid covers, or about long-term care, your State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or SHIP, provides free counseling on all these issues. Call 877-839-2675 or visit to locate a nearby counselor.

You can also get help at or by calling 800-633-4227, and through the Medicare Rights Center, which staffs a help line at 800-333-4114, or visit

>> Tap other resources: There are a number of other organizations you can draw on for additional information, such as the Family Care Alliance (, which provides a state-by-state listing of care-giving programs and services;, which offers care-giving advice, senior housing information and online support groups; the Alzheimer’s Association (, which provides information unique to the challenges of dementia caregivers; and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (, which offers caregiver support serv­ices to veterans and even spouses of veterans.

And, if you happen to be sharing care responsibilities with others, sites like Lotsa and can help you coordinate together.

>> Take care of yourself: Make your own health a priority. Being a caregiver is a big job that can cause emotional and physical stress and lead to illness and depression. The only way you can provide the care your mother needs is to make sure you stay healthy.

Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit

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