New Orleans, La. –
As her mother Bessie grew older, Uptown resident Anita Williams resolved to take a more active role in caring for her, eventually leaving her job to become a fulltime caregiver at her side. It's a calling based on love and devotion, but Anita admits that she, like others in similar situations, can feel overwhelmed.
"I think we cry a lot on the inside and the outside, because we are, a lot of times frustrated," she says. "We share tears because we don't know what else to do. And sometimes when you don't, you find that inner strength, you get right back up and you go and you try again."
In addition to her perseverance, these days Anita can also call on help from the New Orleans Council on Aging. This nonprofit provides an array of services for local seniors and disabled people, from helping with utility bills and delivering hot meals to housekeeping services and legal assistance. The Council on Aging also offers its Family Caregiver Support Program, which manager Teleshia Brimmer explains is there specifically to help those caring for their loved ones at home.
"They need encouragement, they need love as well. A lot of caregivers don't always get the thank you's from their loved ones. A lot of times, they get the abuse," says Brimmer. "So at Council on Aging we take the time to uplift them and encourage them."
Services from the Family Caregiver Support Program take many forms and all are free. It could be vouchers for healthcare supplies, or it could be emotional support through counseling sessions where other family caregivers share their experiences, advice and empathy. Brimmer says feelings of isolation and depression are common among these caregivers, and sometimes their own health suffers.
"You find the person that's being cared for sometimes looks better than the caregiver," she says. "I remember I was talking with a client and I asked her how was she doing, and she said you know what? My mother is doing better than me. Because I'm not going to the doctor, I'm not eating right, I'm eating fast food on the go.' And so that's where, again, the agency comes in and we try to encourage to the utmost, if you can, take care of yourself."
That's why the Council on Aging also offers respite services, where a visitor will essentially relieve the caregiver of duty for a few hours. It's the kind of help that allows people like Anita to restore a measure of balance in their lives and helps them recharge and refocus on why they do all that they do.
"It's a good feeling," Anita says. "I'm glad that I can give back to her. I'm glad that I can basically make her, you know, comfortable, I'm glad that she's happy. I'm glad that she's still at home in her house and that she's able to stay there and doesn't have to go into the nursing home facilities, like she really doesn't want to do, so that's one big thing where I'm happy for her, to have her at home."