'Caresharing' author discusses caring for elderly

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE Tampa Bay Times Published:

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (SHNS) -- Marty Richards' elderly aunt read everything she ever wrote. Her Aunt Toni died at 102 as Richards, a clinical social worker with a private practice, was writing a book about what she refers to as "caresharing."

Richards, who helped care for Toni and her sister, as well as her husband's mother, believes caregiving is both spiritual and reciprocal.

She is the national board for the Adult Lutherans Organized for Action. The Tampa Bay Times recently asked her to answer a few questions about her work.

Q: Can you give an example of how congregations can support older members and their caregivers?

A: One way that they can be supportive is to understand that both the caregiver and care receiver have needs and that illness does not keep persons from their spiritual life and needs for self-care. Churches can continue to offer worship and sacraments, albeit simplified, and must keep visiting care partners. Offering educational classes and a place for support groups to meet can be useful.

Q: What has most saddened you in your elder-care work?

A: I would rather talk about what has given me hope. Families can become overwhelmed when their loved one is struggling with dementia or other illness. However, with assistance from others in their congregation or from professionals, they often bring to bear their inner strengths and resources, such as humor and faith, to their situations. Congregations can assist persons to learn that they are not alone.

Q: What advice do you give to families searching for safe, caring nursing homes?

A: Visit facilities and to use your own eyes, ears, nose and heart to get a sense of a place. Ask questions of staff and listen carefully and get any promises of care in writing, if possible. Check the ratings of that facility. Talk to your network of friends about their experiences.

Q: What advice would you give to relatives who are long-distance caregivers?

A: Learn about the resources where your loved one lives before you need them. It is often helpful to get the senior-information-and-assistance number of the county they are in. When you go to where your loved ones are, keep in touch with your self-care network -- family and friends -- at home.

Be gentle with others who are doing the hands-on care with your loved one and who live around them.

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