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More caregivers lean on state training as they aid the elderly

Aging population, Alzheimer's are focus of programs to help people who provide care for family, others

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - State training for caregivers is seeing increased interest among people who work with the elderly and patients with Alzheimer's.More of those who care for elderly Oregonians are completing free training from the state that helps them perform better.

The state reported that from August 2014 to August 2018, 69,647 classes have been taken and 19,218 caregivers have been trained. In-person classes account for 29 percent, while the other 71 percent were taken online. Caregivers have been trained in every county in the state, and from June 2017 to August 2018, the state has seen a 30 percent increase in caregivers taking the courses.

According to state data, 72 percent of the caregivers were paid and 20 percent were providing unpaid care to someone such as a friend of family member. Five percent work in public safety and 3 percent were state or local government employees.

PMG/EO MEDIA/SRA surge in Oregon's elderly population spurred the program, said Angela Neal, program director for Oregon Care Partners, a company fully funded by the state. The Oregon Department of Human Service manages the contract.

Baby boomers, of which there are about 74 million in the nation, started reaching retirement age in 2011. As a result, the state was seeing an increase in people afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

Those tending to family members don't always view themselves as professional caregivers or in need of special training, Neal said. "A lot of them are working full-time jobs and have families, and it was important to give them a resource to get the help they need," Neal said. Classes can also help professional caregivers looking for extra education on a specific subject.

The focus is on Alzheimer's, Neal said, but Oregon Care Partners provides more than 100 courses dealing with all kinds of issues, such as medication management or how to deal with anger and aggression. The initiative has 33 classes focusing on Alzheimer's and dementia, and those classes have been taken 14,217 times. To complete a course, the participant must attend the entire class, online or in person, and then score 80 percent on a test.

The Legislature started the program in 2014 with $3.3 million for training over two years. Funding was renewed for the 2017-19 biennium.

It's especially helpful for those in rural areas, Neal said. "That was another reason why the training was so important, because there wasn't access to quality training in every part of the state," she said.

Neal said while the primary goal is to make sure adequate care is being provided, it's also a way for the state to step in and be proactive about helping caregivers. "It's a really tough job," she said.

Through courses, people helping a family member with dementia can learn best practices, but also how to deal with the stress that comes with being a caregiver. "We are creating a proactive approach to Alzheimer's disease, to the care of our older adults in Oregon, and to ensuring our caregivers are getting the support and training they need to give the best care possible," Neal said.

Reporter Aubrey Wieber: aubrey@salemreporter.com or 503-575-1251.