Chatham’s growing aging population puts stress on caregivers

COA provides resources to families struggling with aging parents, family members

Posted 4/26/19

CHaTham ch@t | Susan hardy, Chatham county council on aging

Chatham County has one of the fastest-growing aging populations in North Carolina. That’s creating an entire population of children …

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Chatham’s growing aging population puts stress on caregivers

COA provides resources to families struggling with aging parents, family members

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CHaTham ch@t | Susan hardy, Chatham County Council on Aging

Chatham County has one of the fastest-growing aging populations in North Carolina. That’s creating an entire population of children and extended family members who are being asked, or will be asked, to care for them. This week, we talk with Susan Hardy of Chatham County’s Council on Aging about resources available for caregivers and the COA’s upcoming “Powerful Tools for Caregivers” classes. Hardy works as Human Services Team Leader and Caregiver Specialist, and her duties at the COA include connecting caregivers to services, facilitating a caregivers’ support group and providing continuous learning and training for caregivers. In addition to serving as the Council’s Family Caregiver Specialist, Hardy is an Information and Options Counselor, coordinator for the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP), and she is serving as chairman for the Care Services and Caregiving implementation group for Chatham’s Aging Plan. In March 2018, the North Carolina Association on Aging honored Hardy with its statewide Service Excellence Award. Hardy received both her undergraduate degree in special education and her masters of accounting from UNC-Chapel Hill.

You work as the Community Care & Support Manager for the Chatham County Council on Aging. Can you talk about the responsibilities of that role?

I have been at the Council on Aging since 2015. I began as the Family Caregiver Specialist and in the summer of 2018, I assumed additional responsibilities as Human Services Team Leader & Caregiver Specialist. My team is composed of five staff members who concentrate on providing services that promote and encourage keeping our seniors living at home. My responsibilities include supervising the team along with my specific role of concentrating on services for the caregiver. Some of the programs our team oversees include: the Meals on Wheels and Frozen Meal programs, In-Home Aide and Respite Aide programs, Caregivers’ Support Group and Training, Options Counseling, Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP), Minor Home Repairs and Assistive Equipment Loans. We also maintain lists of sitters, cleaners and yard workers for seniors and their families who need help and can afford to privately pay.

One of the services you provide is the upcoming Powerful Tools for Caregivers class. What are the goals and objectives of the class, and who should take part?

The main goal of the class is to provide the caregiver with tools (information) to help promote the health of the caregiver throughout caregiving. The focus is on caregiver self-care. The theme repeated throughout the six sessions of classes is to help the caregiver “thrive, not just survive.”

The class is geared to help family caregivers of adults with chronic conditions. The subjects covered are not geared toward paid caregivers or caregivers of children with special needs. There are programs at the local community college that offer classes for paid caregivers. There is a series of classes entitled Powerful Tools for Caregivers of Children with Special Needs. While Chatham County has two instructors certified to teach Powerful Tools for Caregivers of Adults with Chronic Conditions, I am not aware of anyone in Chatham County who is currently certified to teach the classes for caregivers of children with special needs.

So many caregivers are family members or friends and not trained professionally in taking care of a loved one. Why is it so important that caregivers get adequate training?

When caring for someone with a chronic illness, a caregiver cannot put their life on hold. As a chronic illness progresses, the caregiving responsibilities often increase. We need to ask the question, “What happens to the care receiver when the caregiver is gone?” Receiving training, such as that offered in the class Powerful Tools for Caregivers, helps the caregiver to adapt to the “new normal” by learning to take care of themselves while caregiving for their loved one. Training gives a caregiver confidence and, in many cases, empowers the caregiver to enlist the help of others. Caregiving is a very demanding job and the more people a caregiver can enlist to help them, the longer the caregiver will be able to keep their own health in check. We also provide a list of resources specifically for caregivers which includes web addresses of training videos that caregivers can access via the internet. These videos demonstrate common caregiver tasks such as wound care, bathing and dressing, medication management, etc. This resource list was prepared in the spring of 2018 by a UNC nursing student specifically for us to disseminate to caregivers in Chatham County.

One of the topics the class addresses is reducing stress (along with anger, guilt and depression). Why do you emphasize that?

Knowing how to reduce stress and manage emotions are important tools for the caregiver to have. Our mental health affects our physical health. We cannot always change the way we feel but it is how we deal with our feelings that is important. The class helps the caregiver to learn how to manage the various feelings that may come with the caregiving role. Several methods for reducing stress are introduced to the class participants, along with additional resources that the caregiver can access. The class also helps the caregiver recognize the signs of depression that may indicate the need to seek professional help. Daymark Recovery Services is the local mental health provider that we share with our caregivers as a resource to put in their caregiver toolbox.

You offer these classes from time to time, but for this particular session, which starts May 3, you’re partnering with Tyson Creek Baptist Church. Can you talk about possible plans to expand these classes to other churches?

We are very excited to be offering this class outside of the walls of our two senior centers. Part of the Chatham County Aging Plan 2018-2023 is to expand our programs into the faith community. One of the five issues that was identified as being of highest priority for Chatham County was Caregiving and Care Services. By accepting our invitation to host this class offering, Tyson Creek Baptist Church is opening the door for other churches to help us to promote training opportunities for caregivers among the faith communities. So often the distance to our senior centers is too much for some of our rural citizens to travel. By offering opportunities for training in the local faith community, we hope that more caregivers can take advantage of our services.

For more information, contact the Chatham COA or visit


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