With the average age of Wallowa County citizens ranking among the highest in the state, WeCare, a local support group is ready to help both seniors and senior caregivers.

WeCare sponsored a public event at VFW Hall 4307 earlier this summer that explained some of the assistance that’s available. The event included four presentations as well as a number of staffed display tables of senior-related material, and information about yoga, gym memberships and acupuncture.

“We have to keep our caregivers healthy,” she said. She added that one thing that people who may be struggling with senior care don’t realize is how much WeCare can help.

“I don’t think people realize the amount of information we have to give them,” Taylor said. She explained that WeCare initially started off as a support group that got together for caring and sharing. Eventually, through hosting forums, etc., the group obtained enough information that when a caregiver has a question, they can point them in the right direction to obtain the information.

Anyone with questions about seniors and senior care is welcome to call WeCare at: (541) 432-0419. Taylor said that many people are caregivers who don’t even realize it because they don’t think taking care of a husband or child counts.

WeCare meets at Community Connection from 3-5 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month.

“We have a lot of information,” Taylor said. “It’s just a matter of getting it out to the public.”

That includes help with estate planning. La Grande attorney, Glenn Null, who spoke at the forum, said that when clients come to see him regarding estate planning, their biggest error is that they haven’t done anything in regards to planning. Not that it can’t be fixed — most of the time.

“I would say that 70-80 percent of the time we still have time to work with and get things prepared,” he said. About 20 percent of the time it’s too late for pre-planning, so planning goes into crisis management. “Crisis management is harder than proactive management,” he said.

Estate planning is a two-fold process. The first is that every dollar you spend proactively probably saves 10. The second is to make sure you have good communication with whoever you’re working with because it helps to develop a plan that meets your specific needs.

Null suggested that well-rounded estate planning includes consultation with financial advisors, caretakers, doctors, an attorney, etc.

Jennifer Olson is the executive director for Wallowa Valley Senior Living, which offers both assisted living and memory care. According to Olson, one of the biggest misconceptions people have about WVSL is that it’s a nursing home, which it is not. She also noted that people don’t realize how busy they keep their residents.

“It’s not just a place to go to live out your final days,” she said. “It’s a place to be active and have fun and engage in social relationships.”

Olson suggested that anyone coming to inquire about WVSL keep an open mind about what it has to offer. She said WVSL is very good at matching people up with community resources, and if living in a community setting is not the best fit for them, they will help them find a safe fit.

Olson cautioned that people considering WVSL as an option do so before a crisis happens.

“That way they know what to do before they reach the crisis mode,” Olson said. She suggested preparing for the possibility of residency 10 years before it’s needed.

“Do your estate planning,” she said. “Make sure it’s all laid out and taken care of.”

Kathy Ganung, senior services manager for Community Connection, said that many inquiries about senior care focus on in-home care. Housekeeping is another major concern and sometimes the organization can help with that.

“But we’re not a maid service,” Ganung said.

The Meals on Wheels program also gets a large amount of queries and is in need of volunteers, particularly in Union County.

Ganung said that Community Connection provides almost any senior service one can think of. People seem unaware that the organization can offer help in finding resources to help pay for medications. They can provide seniors a food box so they can use money set aside for food to pay medication expenses or do the same with a power bill. Community Connection also works with the Walla Walla, Wash. and Boise, Idaho VA to provide in-home care for veterans, even helping the vets get connected with the program.

“If you think you have a need, call us,” Ganung said. “We may provide the service or know who does.” Contact Community Connection at (541) 426-3840.

Joseph resident Meg Bowen talked about her experience as a caregiver. She was working in Cincinnati, Ohio, at Procter and Gamble in the early 2000s, when her mother suffered a grievous injury and needed a caretaker.

Bowen volunteered and took advantage of the Family Emergency Medical Leave Act to make it happen. She said her employer was very helpful and supportive. Still, Bowen didn’t anticipate all the possible issues.

“I thought it would be a rich time for us to reconnect at what turned out to be the end of her life, which did happen,” she said. However, Bowen said that she also had tussles with her mother’s physician about the care. She was unprepared for her sibling’s reactions to their mother’s terminal diagnosis and even the basic paying of her bills and keeping the lights on. “My anticipation of what that period would be was only a tiny sliver of reality,” Bowen said.

Insisting on shouldering as much of the caregiving as possible herself, she started to suffer from burnout. Eventually, this turned into an emotional breakdown while shopping at Fred Meyer. That woke her up.

“I went home for a week to reconnect with my family in Ohio and get back to work,” Bowen said. Her mother initially rallied but quickly took a bad turn. Bowen was back a week later. “I will never forget the relief I felt as I got back to her side. That relief was far greater than the relief of having some distance from things in Ohio.”

Despite some of the trauma she endured, Bowen said she isn’t sorry she took on the mantle of caregiver.

“I made her a promise when my dad died that I would do the same care for her, and I was able to keep that promise,” Bowen said. “I didn’t miss a dream, a song, a prayer, a sigh. It was worth it but if I ever have to repeat this I will take much better care of myself.”

Bowen recommended that anyone taking on the caregiver role be sure that they’re taken care of as well because there is no perfect caregiving scenario.

“You can’t stop this train from coming in to the station, and throwing yourself on the tracks won’t stop that train,” she said. “Know that you are human, that people support you as well, and let them help you.”

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