Programs offer caregivers emotional support, practical guidance

(Newscom/Jan Tepass)

Guilt. Anger. Stress. Depression. These are only a handful of common emotions on a lengthy list that caregivers experience when caring for a loved one who may have a disability or may be elderly and frail.

More than 40 million caregivers provided unpaid care to an adult or child in 2015, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving, a nonprofit organization that works to increase public awareness of family caregiving issues. And that number is expected to rise with the unprecedented aging population, experts said.

But many of the millions of caregivers are unaware that others experience similar emotions.

"When you've taken on caring for someone else, you think you are supposed to be patient, kind, loving and caring at all times, then you feel bad when that's not the case," said Donna Schempp, a licensed clinical social worker and former president of Family Caregiver Alliance, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco. "We need to normalize that you are not the only one."

That's the goal behind workshops and classes Schempp organized in the Bay Area during her 14-year career at Family Caregiver Alliance -- to offer caregivers a place to communicate with others in similar circumstances and to aid the caregiver rather than the care recipient.

Support is essential to a caregiver's emotional status, experts say. Classes like Schempp's offer counseling and emotional support, a focus on the caregiver's health, and hands-on instruction on how to care for a loved one. Support is also provided to help caregivers make the decision to move a loved one to an assisted living facility or nursing home, and how to move beyond the associated guilt. 

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A version of this story appeared in the May 20-June 2, 2016 print issue under the headline: Lightening the burden .

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