Caregiving course offers training many adults need

Like many, I entered the role of caregiver without any preparation.

My husband and I began caring for our elderly neighbors, Fred and Hildy. Over time we were dealing with a dizzying array of doctor visits, personal care needs, and physical and cognitive health issues without any of their family to lean on.

I had a few things going for me. I was compassionate, motivated to help and not afraid to ask questions. The problem was, who should I ask questions of?

It turns out that my education and life experience had not prepared me for the things I was doing, like assisting with medications, measuring and recording vital signs, aiding with wheelchairs and walkers, scanning the house for fall risks and communicating accurately with physicians.

This lack of training brought me back to my time as a newlywed, when I thought that, of all the classes I took in school, not one of them was dedicated to effectively navigating a new marriage.

Now that would have been a great course to take.

The same goes for the role of a caregiver. A large percentage of the population takes on this role, but few, at the outset, are equipped to perform it successfully.

And unlike with young newlyweds, taking responsibility for the life of an older adult does not leave a lot of room for mistakes.

Recently, a friend told me about a course at Conejo Valley Adult Education that offers training for a medical career as a certified caregiver. It’s a four-week, $500 course that can prepare individuals for caregiving jobs in assisted-living communities, nursing homes or private residences.

I imagine the legions of sons, daughters, spouses, friends and neighbors who have become primary caregivers or could see themselves in the role at some point might be motivated to take the course.

The landscape of care and services for seniors is increasingly moving to the home. Most Americans over the age of 65 live in the community, not in nursing homes or other institutions.

Only 4.5% (about 1.5 million) of older adults live in nursing homes and 2% (1 million) in assisted-living facilities. This means that there will continue to be a greater reliance on community based caregiving.

Further complicating the picture, the number of potential family caregivers will not keep pace with the number of older adults. In 2010, the ratio was seven potential caregivers (those age 40 to 65) for every senior over 80. By 2050, that number is expected to fall to just 3:1.

Over 80% of senior care is provided by family or friends. The family caregivers themselves need support and care to help address the effect caregiving can have on their physical and emotional health.

I believe I could have lowered my stress level significantly and felt more prepared to care for Fred and Hildy had I taken a course like the one at CVAE when I first started helping the couple. Early on, our caregiving consisted of picking up a few items at the grocery store and helping them hang holiday decorations.

That would have been the time to invest in that course, so that all of us down the road would have benefited.

What if every community college, adult school, college and university offered a course in caregiving? What if those courses were tuition-free or tax-deductible? What if companies provided paid time off for their employees to take the course? What if companies brought the course in-house?

There is so much we can do to prepare for the aging of America over the next 20 years.

For those interested, the certified caregiver course at CVAE begins July 19. You can find out more at conejoadulted.org.

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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