Legacy Link Inc.: 508 Oak St., Gainesville, 770-538-2650, 800-845-5465, www.legacylink.org
The Guest House: 320 Tower Heights Road, Gainesville (moving to 320 Oak St. in April), 770-535-1487, www.theguesthouse.org
Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center: Six-week caregiver support group, Feb. 21-March 28, Summers Landing at Limestone, 2130 Windward Lane, Gainesville. Free. Register at www.nghs.com or call Janie Mardis at 770-219-8888, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Kelley Roberts said she couldn’t stand to see her mom, 89-year-old Elizabeth Allison, in a nursing home.
Roberts, a Clermont resident, is one of many adults who care for an aging parent. But caregivers also may be looking after family members who struggle to care for themselves, including husbands, wives, grandparents and adult children. Caregiving can be stressful, isolating or even depressing, but local experts say it doesn’t have to be, and there are resources available to help.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Roberts said. “You’ve got to be there for them and look after them, and it’s kind of a full-time job.”
Roberts thinks her mother, Elizabeth Allison, may have an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Allison started developing dementia about three years ago, and while she can remember things from her early years in life, she sometimes can’t remember who her daughter is. She is antsy and repeats things she said 30 minutes before, Roberts said.
Thus, Roberts has taken over the role of parent to her aging mom. She talks and laughs about how cooperative her mother is, yet also determined and willful.
“It’s like dealing with a child really,” Roberts said. “She gives me fits sometimes, but she’s manageable. She’s good.”
It’s an identity change because caregivers are responsible for getting someone else through the day, said Kristin Fouch, caregiver specialist with Legacy Link Inc., an area agency that provides services to seniors and their families.
“It’s a big life change,” Fouch said.
She moved her mother in with herself, her husband and children when Allison needed more help with daily activities and started forgetting things. Roberts helps her with bathing and dressing, but she said her mom can still do some things for herself and was always very active.
The U.S. population is aging, said Legacy Link CEO Pat Freeman. Some sort of dementia is common in the aging population, Fouch said. Many seniors stay healthy, but still can’t care for themselves.
In 2012, 5.4 million Americans lived with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, with 5.2 million aged 65 and over. By 2050, up to 16 million will have the disease, reported the nonprofit organization, which advances research and enhances quality of life, in 2012.
Roberts said her mother is in good health for her age, except for her mind. She has a pacemaker for her heart and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease because of multiple bouts of pneumonia.
“There’s a lot of them out there that are worse off than me,” Roberts said of others caring for parents.
The stress and time devoted to loved ones can, over time, cause caregivers to neglect themselves and become isolated. They don’t take care of themselves and can feel hopeless and depressed, Fouch said. Fouch meets with caregivers in the home to determine what training and resources might benefit them.
“Sometimes they just need to talk so they don’t feel so alone,” she said.
Legacy Link offers services, including senior recreational classes, Medicare counseling and home health services. They also have a caregiver educational program, a free six-week educational program designed to equip family caregivers with the tools to take care of themselves while caring for a loved one.
Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center offers a six-week caregiver support group scheduled for 2-3 p.m. Thursdays from Feb. 21 to March 28.
Roberts has a support network that helps her share the burden. Her sister takes Allison every other weekend, and her husband and children help as well.
Roberts drops her mother off at The Guest House, a private, nonprofit adult day care center in Gainesville, about four days a week. She laughs, saying that without the center, she and her mom might drive each other crazy. Many days, her son picks Allison up from the center to take her home.
“There’s not many 18-year-old boys that will go and pick up their grandmother at a guest house,” Roberts said. “But he’s always been close with his grandparents.”
If she feels stressed out, her husband will take over so she can have a breather. Still, mother and daughter enjoy their time together. Wednesdays are “spa” days, when Roberts will wash and do her mom’s hair and give her a manicure.
Still, Roberts maintains a constant vigil over her mom, worried that she’ll fall and hurt herself.
Roberts said she feels so strongly about taking care of her mother because of an elderly aunt she cared for before the aunt was moved into a nursing home.
“Seeing her in that home just killed me,” Roberts said. “And I think that’s one reason I’m like I am with my mom. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”