MANSFIELD — Most of us will be a caregiver at some point in our lives.
But Nicole Williams, vice president of outreach and development for the Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging, said the role of caregiving is one we often don't think about until it's our turn.
The Area Agency on Aging hosted a celebration for caregivers and seniors Friday in honor of National Family Caregivers Month.
Susan Montgomery, community outreach coordinator for the Area Agency on Aging, said the event was a chance to recognize the community's silent heroes for their service and dedication.
"Family caregivers are the foundation of our nation’s long-term care system, doing necessary work with devotion, many times at a significant emotional and financial cost," Montgomery said.
Caregivers and the people they care for were invited to attend free workshops including a drum circle, chair yoga, salsa dancing, intro to theater and art classes at the Richland Academy of the Arts. Attendees also enjoyed a free lunch and information on local resources for seniors and caregivers.
“Everyone's had a blast," Williams said. "The salsa dancing has been a crowd pleaser.”
It's estimated that more than 50 million Americans are currently caregivers. Caregivers may assist older adults, adults who are disabled or have certain medical conditions or individuals dealing with mental illness or addiction.
Many are balancing the responsibilities of caregiving, parenting and earning a living.
Mary McDonald, who has worked with seniors since 1975, said caregivers often struggle to take time for themselves and meet their own needs.
"You must take care of yourself in order to care for someone else and we always neglect ourselves," McDonald said.
Debra Wherry Bey has been a caregiver twice — after her husband was diagnosed with cancer and during her mother's later years.
During her husband's illness, family members helped by providing respite care.
"We went to an event and I looked as bad as he did because of all the work that you have to do," she recalled. “If it wasn’t for my mother and my brother that gave me a break, I don’t know what I would do."
“You’ve got to look at the caregiver. They need a break. It is so important that we get a break and just breathe.”
Montgomery, who recently became a caregiver herself, echoed that advice. Oftentimes the best way to support a caregiver is to support the person in their care.
“Offer to come over and sit with their loved one, give a couple hours of your time so that they can go get their hair cut, go into the grocery store," she suggested.
The agency also has a respite program available for in-home services or temporary nursing home services if a caregiver has to leave town due to circumstances like a wedding or funeral.
The Area Agency on Aging has navigators on staff that can help caregivers find supports and resources in the district five service area, which consists of Ashland, Crawford, Huron, Knox, Marion, Morrow, Richland, Seneca and Wyandot counties.
Anyone seeking information about caregiver and senior resources can stop by the agency's office on 2131 Park Avenue West in Ontario or call 419-524-4144.
"We want to be that place where they can call and say, 'I don't know what to do. What's available for me and my family?' and then we can help navigate that for them," Montgomery said.
Services include caregiver support and respite care, personal care, transportation, assistance with prescription drugs and home medical equipment, long-term planning, alternative housing, home delivered meals, adult day care, volunteer opportunities, home repairs, wellness classes, the home energy assistance program and more.
Williams encouraged anyone looking for services to call in, even if they don't think they will qualify.
"There's so many different funds that we manage and so many different programs that you might not qualify for one, but you qualify for these three," she said.