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Powerful Tools classes return, reminding family caregivers to take care

Powerful Tools for Caregivers

When it comes to taking care of an aging loved one, health experts warn it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. That’s why Erie County is once again offering Powerful Tools for Caregivers classes.


The six-week sessions start next week and offer self-care tips for reducing stress and improving communication skills for those who look after an aging parent or spouse. 



“What’s great about these classes is that they learn and have the permission to take care of themselves,” said Katie Earl, coordinator of volunteer training and development for the Erie County Department of Senior Services.

Powerful Tools for Caregivers is an Oregon-based nonprofit that provides caregiving curriculum and partners with government and community agencies to teach and host the classes.


The organization states it has more than 4,600 trained class leaders teaching the class throughout the United States, as well as Canada and Korea.


About 34.2 million Americans provided unpaid care like feeding, dressing and food preparation to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months, according to a 2015 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. 


In New York state, AARP estimates nearly 2.6 million family caregivers provide unpaid care to a loved one. There’s currently a bill in the state Legislature to provide a tax credit to such families.


Erie County Commissioner of Senior Services David Shenk said he’s seeing more and more families choosing to keep their aging loved ones at home as opposed to placing them in a skilled nursing facility.


“So with that becoming a new trend, the caregivers are forced to do things they weren’t trained for,” he said. “They’re not certified nurse assistants, they’re not retired RNs. They’re family members that could have had any kind of vocation throughout their lifetime, and so these classes help prepare them for this new job, if you will.”


Shenk added the role can be difficult for families. A son or daughter in the “sandwich generation” may be taking care of an aging parent while still raising their own children. A spouse may be upset to see their partner in declining health and so dependent on them.


Some maybe never expected to be a caregiver.


“Anytime you go into the unknown and you’re not prepared, that raises your stress level and your anxiety,” Shenk said. “So going to these classes is going to build your confidence and will help to reduce that stress and anxiety, and that’s going to be better for everyone involved.”


The classes are held once a week for six weeks. They’re offered at Church of the Annunciation Parish in Elma from 1 to 3:30 p.m. starting Tuesday; Greenfield Health and Rehabilitation Center in Lancaster from 6 to 7:30 p.m. starting Wednesday; and at Presbyterian Village at North Church in Williamsville from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. starting Oct. 2.


Pre-registration is required and there’s a suggested donation of $25 to cover the costs of the class materials. 


Those looking to register can call 716-858-8526, or email caregiver@erie.gov.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.