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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Celebrating Caregivers

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, February 28, 2006

2005 Horizon Caregiver of the Year Shirley Jean Lee and her husband Howard Lee attended a May award ceremony. Howard Lee passed away during the autumn.
North Adams - Caring for a spouse, parent, friend, or neighbor may be among life's most unselfish acts, and the REACH Community Health Foundation's Horizon program is poised to honor a local caregiver for the second consecutive year.

The Horizon Caregiver of the Year award ceremony has been scheduled for May 4 at the Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Northern Berkshire headquarters on Curran Highway. The event is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m..

Members of Horizon are actively seeking caregiver award nominations.

This year's nomination criteria requires that either the caregiver or the person receiving care be 60 years old or older and the caregiver must act in an unpaid capacity. Nominees must live in the Northern Berkshire region. Examples of nominees include a spouse, a parent over age 60 who is caring for a child, friends caring for friends, or similar situations. Nominations will be accepted from individuals such as family members, those who receive care, or those familiar with a particular situation or agencies that may be involved, such as an elderly services provider or a respite care group.

All nominees will be invited to the May ceremony.

"Anyone can make a nomination," said Sharon Leary, a REACH community health advocate. "If a nurse or a home health aide sees that a husband, a child, a friend, is acting as a caregiver, they can make the nomination. We know that there are many caregivers out there and we need to have people recognize the wonderful work they do and make the nominations."

Those making a nomination will be asked to describe the nominee and the specific caregiving situation.

As the "baby-boomer" population ages and life expectancies increase, many, if not most, people will assume caregiver roles at some point during their lives, Leary said.

The deadline for nominations is March 15. Several nominations have been received.

Leary said that the Horizon group is hoping to include an overnight stay at a local inn or motel as part of the award package.

"People often need some respite, and an overnight stay somewhere would be so appreciated," she said.

The first-ever Caregiver of the Year was Shirley Jean Lee, who was nominated in 2005 by her husband Howard Lee. Soon after accepting the award during a May ceremony, Shirley Jean Lee appeared on a WilliNet television program dedicated to caregiving. The panel included John G. Merselis, a retired physician, and Beth Parker-O'Brien, a member of the Horizon Advisory Board.

Howard Lee died during the fall.

An estimated financial value of volunteer caregiving has been put at about $257 billion a year nation-wide, and that estimate has been termed "conservative," according to information made available by the REACH foundation.

Unpaid caregivers represent about 80 percent of those who deliver at-home care services, according to the information. The National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP have stated that 4.4 million Americans, or one in five adults, are providing some level of unpaid care to loved ones.

There are emotional and physical stress factors associated with caregiving; these factors may be exacerbated locally because of long winters, transportation and socialization challenges and limitations, and financial hardships that affect numerous local families.

Nomination forms are available at Northern Berkshire-based public libraries, the North Adams Regional Hospital, the Sweet Brook Transitional Care and Living Centers, the Sweetwood Continuing Care Retirement Community, or by calling 413-664-5404.

Nominations will be reviewed by Horizon advisory board members. The Horizon organization offers resources and information to caregivers and founded a Caregiver Lending Library housed at the David and Joyce Milne Public Library in Williamstown. The group also publishes a recommended reading/video list for caregivers on a regular basis and also hosts video viewing nights for caregivers.

A seminar titled "Conversations on Caregiving" will be presented later this year; a seminar date will be announced in the future.

Book selection has been enhanced at the caregiver library, thanks to a Berkshire Life Foundation grant, Leary said. Books about diabetes, arthritis and additional conditions have been added to the library, as have books about caregiving and death. Books meant to help children cope with death and dying have been included in the library as well, including a book donated by Elder Services Director Robert Dean titled "When Dinosaurs Die" and a book written by Maria Shriver, wife of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, that is titled "What Is Heaven?".

"We are trying to focus on caregiving as a whole," Leary said.

Susan Bush may be contacted via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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