By Lisa S. Lenkiewicz CTLatinoNews.com
Caring for a loved one is an important duty for Latinos. Many within the community dedicate their lives to providing for and taking care of a family member.
According to the State of Connecticut Network of Care, “The obligation of families to provide care for relatives and loved ones with physical and/or mental disabilities is very powerful in the Latino community.”
As a result, few Latino older adults end up in nursing homes or senior living facilities. Instead, they remain and are cared for at home.
Maribel Vega of Hartford, who is from Puerto Rico, has been taking care of her 65-year-old father at her home since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years ago. While she is caring for her dad, her mother is back in Puerto Rico caring for Vega’s 98-year-old grandmother.
She is careful to emphasize it is important to her to keep her father at home, as it is “the least she can do for him,” in gratitude to him as a great father, and she fears no one else would care for her dad as well as she can.
But the caregiving—doctor visits, shopping, domestic chores, cooking and administering medications—has been a stressful juggling act for Vega, 41, who also works and is busy raising three children.
She turned for help to the North Central Area Agency on Aging (NCAAA), whose mission is to “enhance the quality of life for older adults, individuals with disabilities and their caregivers, by ensuring access to quality services.”
Vega was then referred to Damaris De Leon, respite care manager at The National Family Caregiver Support Program on New Park Road in Hartford. A Latina who is fluent in Spanish, De Leon was able to help her client by providing information on and referral to programs for which her father qualified. Equally important, she helped develop a plan for his long-term care. Her father is now receiving funding to attend an adult day care program at Senior Care in East Hartford, where he participates in activities and has made new friends.
According to Hispanic Link News Service, the challenge for the Latino community (and all of America) is to take better care of themselves through nutrition, exercise and greater attention to mental health. In the absence of improved health and wellness, chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s will continue to afflict Latinos and all Americans.
When they need care, a 2005 Home Care Association of New Jersey study indicated 88 percent of Hispanics, compared to 82 percent of African Americans and 80 percent of white groups prefer home care for medical aid over hospitals, nursing homes or other facilities.
A 2004 National Alliance for Care Giving and AARP study found Hispanic caregivers (34 percent) are more likely than non-Hispanic whites (22 percent) to live with the person they care for.
Help is Available
The National Family Caregiver Support Program / Connecticut Statewide Respite Care Program is administered by the NCAAA. It provides support services to caregivers who are caring for a person 60+, or a person of any age with any form of dementia. The services are of the family’s choosing and are frequently adult day care, homemaking, companion, emergency response system, home health aides, or a short-term stay in an assistant living facility or nursing home.
The National Family Caregiver Support Program also provides information and referrals on other benefits available through state and federal programs. This program helps people understand the complexities of the Medicare system and other health insurance options. It assists with long-term care planning, free counseling, respite care, support groups and management of funding and advocacy for services for older persons and their caregivers in the 38-town North Central Connecticut region, according to De Leon.
However, the challenge is reaching out to the Latino community, many of whom, often due to language barriers, are not sure where to turn for help.
“I get a lot of calls from people in the Latino community,” noted De Leon. “They don’t know how to find agencies with bilingual staff.” These calls come from Hartford and many of the surrounding towns, she said.
As part of her outreach efforts, De Leon has been interviewed at radio stations La Mega, 910 AM Radio, 840 AM Radio and La Puerto Riquenisima 1120 AM Radio. She frequently attends senior health fairs and hopes to hire additional bilingual staff to reach out to the Latino community in Hartford and surrounding towns to provide information and arrange for support.
Of course, caregivers cannot adequately care for someone if by doing so they jeopardize their own health or financial stability. Oftentimes, these caregivers are prone to ignoring their own stress and personal needs.
Several years ago, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), an organization serving the needs of retirees, launched a national public service advertising campaign–both in Spanish and in English–to inform caregivers about the support and resources available to them and their loved ones.
Visit www.aarp.org/cuidar in Spanish and www.aarp.org/caregiving in English, to learn more about AARP’s Caregiving Resource Center – Centro de Recursos Cuidando a los Nuestros. This website connects caregivers to a wealth of resources, including a toll-free caregiver support hotline, 1-877-333-5885.
Damaris De Leon, of The National Family Caregiver Support Program, may be reached directly at 860-724-6443 ext. 289.
Photo: © Bengt-Goran Carlsson, Getty Images