Denise Nebbe (left) uses the skills taught in Powerful Tools for Caregivers as she helps care for her mother, Alice Thompson (right), who lives in a retirement community in Boone. Photo by Wyeth Lynch.
Denise Nebbe (left) uses the skills taught in Powerful Tools for Caregivers as she helps care for her mother, Alice Thompson (right), who lives in a retirement community in Boone. Photo by Wyeth Lynch.

Iowa State provides assistance to growing number of family caregivers

People across Iowa are learning to thrive, not just survive, as they provide care to their loved ones who are chronically ill, aging, or have a disability.

“Powerful Tools for Caregivers,” a six-week series of classes provided by Human Sciences Extension and Outreach, gives participants the tools they need to address the challenges of caregiving.

Participants learn skills to reduce stress, improve caregiving confidence, establish balance in their lives, communicate needs, make tough decisions, and locate helpful resources. They create weekly action plans to help them achieve these objectives.

“These tools are taught in a safe and supportive atmosphere,” said Donna Donald, a human sciences extension specialist serving southern Iowa. She said the goals of the program align well with the mission of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach to keep people healthy.

The program started in 2003. Evaluations show that participants improve self-care behaviors, management of emotions, self-efficacy, and use of community resources.

More than 200 Iowans take the course each year. The goal for 2014 is to increase that number to 250.

Need for guidance

Twenty-nine percent of people in the United States provide care for family members or friends who need assistance, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.

These providers face physical, emotional, and financial challenges. Caregivers report having elevated stress levels, poorer health, and higher rates of depression than their peers, according to a Stress in America survey

Iowa is a state with a large aging population. About 540,000 people provide 353 million hours of caregiving each year — hours with a market value of $4.1 million if provided in a professional setting, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. But most caregivers are unpaid, and more than half manage a job while spending an average of 20 hours a week assisting their loved ones.

This was the case for Maria Allen from Chariton.

Allen was providing primary care for her 93-year-old mother; serving as primary contact for her father, who had Alzheimer’s disease and resided in a nursing home; and supporting her mother-in-law, also in a nursing home recovering from a stroke — all while working part-time.

Allen said the combination of needs left her feeling like she did not have time to be supportive of her husband and children. That is when a friend referred her to Powerful Tools for Caregivers.

“I’m not sure what made me go except I knew it would at least be a few hours away from my crazy life,” Allen said.

She said attending the class actually saved her life.

“The things I learned and support I got from the other members of the class and the class leaders changed my life forever,” Allen said. “The resources and tools I learned how to use in dealing with and taking care of my family made my life so much better.”

Linda Couchman of Corydon also turned to Powerful Tools for Caregivers shortly after her husband, Jack, suffered a workplace injury in 2004 that left him with a permanent disability and needing constant care.

“The group came to be a source of comfort and support and encouragement during those desperate months,” she said.

Almost 10 years later, Couchman still uses the lessons from the classes. 

“The experience strengthened my resolve to do whatever was financially and physically possible to make the years ahead as meaningful as possible for Jack and me,” Couchman said. “The program doesn’t solve every problem, but it gives you a foundation.”

No typical class leader

In addition to providing classes to family caregivers, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach also provides training for class leaders. This allows the national, evidence-based education program to expand.

Iowa has more than 125 trained class leaders. To become certified, leaders go through an intensive two-day training, taught by master trainers and family life program specialists Donald and Kristi Cooper.

“There is not a ‘typical’ class leader,” Donald said. “Class leaders come from Extension and Outreach, Area Agencies on Aging, hospice, hospitals, private caregiving organizations, and faith-based organizations. Occasionally, a class participant will choose to become a class leader.”

Iowa State’s reach in providing help to caregivers now extends outside the state of Iowa. Donald and Cooper have trained class leaders in Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, North Dakota, and Nebraska. 

KEY CONTACTS:

Donna Donald, human sciences extension specialist, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach, Iowa State University, 641-446-4723, ddonald@iastate.edu

Kristi Cooper, human sciences extension specialist, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach, Iowa State University, 319-377-9839, kcoop@iastate.edu

Tara Lackey, graduate assistant, College of Human Sciences, Iowa State University, 515-294-9424, hsnews1@iastate.edu

 
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