Friday, November 5, 2004

Caregivers now have a helping hand



Maggie Downs

My dad knows the day of a caregiver.

He often is awakened throughout the night by my mother's paranoid, Alzheimer's-induced wandering. He quickly gets himself ready before bathing and dressing my mother, fixing her hair, brushing her teeth, making her breakfast and helping to feed her.

He takes care of all daily household tasks and errands while simultaneously watching his wife, helping her to the bathroom or bringing her glasses of water. At night, he gets a few moments of rest after dinner before he has to walk my mom through the process of getting ready for bed.

Squeeze in visiting other family members, attending church, handling various household emergencies and making frequent doctor appointments for his own health, and my father doesn't have much free time.

In fact, all this proved impossible with his full-time job.

A new business started by four recent Miami University graduates aims to help people in such situations.

Eldercare Education Consultants provides education, training, resources, referrals and individual help to employed people who care for a loved one older than 50. They plan to work with small and medium-sized companies of 100 to 500employees.

What began as an office project for these women - Lydia Manning, 26, of Pleasant Ridge; Kate Sandker, 25, Hyde Park; Pat Faust, 53, Brighton, Ind., and Leanne Clark, 24, currently getting her Ph.D. in Baltimore - has turned into a solution for a serious issue.

With a large population of aging baby boomers and an increase in serious health problems, many of us young professionals soon could join the Sandwich Generation - people simultaneously caring for children and parents.

This is a problem for employers, too, who must battle stressed-out employees, lost productivity and missed days of work. Up to $29 billion per year could be lost by American business because of caregiving, according to a 2001 Metlife Insurance study.

"It's OK to go in to work with a child-care problem, but not elder-care," Faust said. "There's still a stigma. Caregivers are still sort of marginalized."

The four women act more like sisters than business partners. All received master's degrees in gerontological studies and celebrated by getting the same tattoo.

It's a huge risk for them to leap into this venture.

Manning is teaching part time. Clark is a student who participates in the business through phone calls and frequent visits. Faust is an aromatherapy practitioner through TriHealth. Sandker has no current income and a dwindling savings account.

They're putting everything into doing what they believe. In the end, they hope, employers will have efficient employees, caretakers will receive much-needed assistance, and loved ones will get the best quality care possible.

"Ultimately we hope to start more of a culture change and educate people about the elderly," Manning said. "We want to help society embrace aging."

As part of the Hamilton County Development Center in Norwood, they squeeze into an office that is just 168 square feet, about the size of two parking spaces. Their desks are smooshed together in the center for maximum fun, and the place always smells nice, courtesy of Faust's aromatherapy oils.

The women will host a free seminar 9:30-11:30 a.m. Dec. 4 at the center, 1776 Mentor Ave., Norwood. Space is limited, so reservations are encouraged by calling (513) 731-5400.

My father, when the caretaking duties became overwhelming, left the Air Force after 43 years, a job he loved.

Eldercare Education Consultants wants to make sure others don't have to do the same.

E-mail mdowns@enquirer.com




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