News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 18, 2014

For those who help others, a place for help of their own

New group to support caregivers

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — After decades of marriage and hard work, Ted and Mary Dougherty were looking forward to taking it easy for a while.

Then Mary started having difficulty around the house. She’d forget things she’d learned just the day before. Soon, Mary needed special care, and Ted was finding himself becoming a full-time, in-home caregiver to his bride of more than 50 years.

“I was at my wit’s end,” Ted said last week during a planning meeting of Coffee & Caregivers, a new support group in Vigo County created to help people looking after a loved one.

Eventually, Ted admitted Mary into a long-term care facility. It was clearly one of the toughest decisions of his life.

“It was very difficult after 51 years of marriage,” Ted said.

That is not an uncommmon scenario nationally, as the National Center for Assisted Living reports there are more than 735,000 Americans in assisted living settings. More than half were age 85 or older in 2010. Three out of four are female.

Dealing with that reality is the purpose of Coffee & Caregivers, an informal support group whose meetings will be conducted the first Wednesday of each month at Cackleberries, a restaurant at Seventh and Poplar streets.

The group is small now, but the potential membership is huge. There are many people in the area who dedicate much of their lives to providing nearly constant care for a loved one, said Robin Heng, one of the organizers of the group.

Coffee & Caregivers has two missions:

• To provide a support group for caregivers looking after a loved one in a home setting and

• To provide support for those taking the difficult step of admitting a loved one to a long-term care facility

“We’re going to support each other,” Heng said.

Meetings will involve sharing stories and advice, and just benefiting from the knowledge you are not alone, she said. With more than 30 percent of the Vigo County population older than 65, the need for such a support group is great, Heng added.

One symptom of caregiver stress is feeling isolated and alone, said Courtney Freihaut, another of the group’s organizers. “They often feel alone and don’t know where they can turn to find support,” she said.

Heng and Freihaut both work at a local extended-care facility, where they see families every day who are having to make the tough choices involved when a loved one needs special care.

“Working in an extended-care facility, you see the difficulties families face,” Heng said, adding that is what inspired her to start the group.

For more information about Coffee & Caregivers, search for the group’s page on Facebook or call 812-238-1555 and ask for Freihaut or Heng.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.