Topeka support groups help caregivers cope with feelings, stress

Respite services provide temporary relief

Being a caregiver for someone with physical and/or cognitive limitations can be an exhausting, round-the-clock responsibility. That’s why it’s important for caregivers to take steps to care for themselves, too.


“It’s OK to ask for help,” said April Maddox, care management program manager at Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging Inc.

Caregivers of older adults typically help with preparation of meals, bathing and dressing, grocery shopping, housecleaning, management of medications, arrangements for services, transportation to doctor’s appointments and pay most of household bills.

Caregivers may become overwhelmed, especially if the loved one has cognitive issues or can no longer communicate effectively, said Tim Keogh, a social worker with the Program of All-Inclusive Care at Midland Care.

RELATED: Read more retirement stories in our special section here.

“They take on the responsibility, but (the loved one) can’t communicate or give guidance,” Keogh said. “(It can lead to) frustration, stress and confusion.”

Many times, caregivers also are balancing a job and other family duties, creating additional physical and emotional stress.

To help alleviate that stress, JAAA recommends caregivers:

• Get sufficient sleep.

• Eat a healthy diet.

• Exercise and stay physically fit.

• Schedule periodic health checkups.

• Avoid abusing drugs or alcohol.

• Socialize with friends and family.

• Pursue their own interests.

• Seek support from family, friends, professionals, religious advisers or peer support groups.

• Use appropriate in-home and community-based services, such as a respite care or adult day care program that watches over the older adult to give the caregiver a short period of relief.

Keogh said it’s important for caregivers to be specific when asking for help.

“Don’t expect people to read your mind about what you need,” he said.

When caregiving becomes overwhelming, Maddox said, it might be helpful for the caregiver to talk to a professional counselor about their feelings or attend a support group where they can talk with other caregivers who are struggling with the same issues.

Related: See the digital copy of the 2016 Retirement Special Section here.

As the loved one ages or grows sicker, the caregiver may no longer be able to provide adequately for their needs. Consequently, the loved one may need to move into an assisted living or skilled nursing facility. When that happens, the caregiver may experience a host of feelings.

“The biggest emotion we see from the caregiver is guilt,” Maddox said.

Many caregivers promise their loved ones they will take care of them in their homes, and then feel badly when they must break the promise.

“They also go through a loss of their identity,” she said, explaining how the care facility will assume many of the responsibilities that had been done by the caregiver. “It’s hard for them to transition back to being the son or the daughter.”

Keogh said caregivers also may have a sense of loneliness once their spouse or parent moves into a facility and may need to find activities to fill the void in their schedules.

“It’s a lot like grief,” he said. “There’s a loss there. Be patient with yourself. You don’t have to rush and fill the void. Give yourselves time to adjust and be reassured they have done the best they could in the best interest of their loved one.”

Again, participating in a support group or visiting with a counselor may help the caregiver cope with the changes they are facing.

“(The groups) provide support to others … and acknowledge the feelings they have are OK,” Maddox said. “It helps put things in perspective.”

Keogh agreed.

“They are connecting with others who are going through a similar situation,” he said, explaining how that helps to “normalize” their feelings. “It’s reassuring for people to hear that.”


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Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging Inc. facilitates three family caregiver support groups:

■ 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. the second Monday of the month, Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, 1515 S.W. 10th Ave.

■ Noon to 1 p.m. the third Friday of the month, Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging, 2910 S.W. Topeka Blvd.

■ 1 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month, Baldwin Methodist Church, 708 Grove, Baldwin City

JAAA also offers an online caregiver forum at, and a caregiver specialist can be reached at (785) 235-1367 or (800) 798-1366.


Prime Time, a special section in Sunday, Oct. 10, 2016's issue of The Topeka Capital-Journal, explores the issues facing individuals as they approach retirement age, including downsizing and housing options, financial planning, questions to ask when transitioning into an independent living or assisted living facility and caregiving considerations.

The special section also features a directory of amenities at independent living and assisted living facilities in northeast Kansas, as well as a list of community resources that senior citizens and their families may find helpful. Additional stories and photos can be viewed at