By Rose L. Thayer

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON - When Temple resident Marilyn Buchanan married her husband 44 years ago, she never saw herself becoming his primary caregiver.

But Buchanan quit working in 2003 to take care of Larry, 65, who suffers from vascular dementia, diabetes and medical complications from exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

"I never would have thought about him as a patient," she said of her longtime spouse.

Buchanan is among the 65 million family caregivers across the nation, according to the National Caregivers Association. She is part of a growing number of people who prefer to keep sick or elderly loved ones at home instead of placing them in professional care.

"It's really helpful to know that this can happen to anybody," said Buchanan.

In 2009, the cost of that home-based care averaged around $450 million, reports the caregivers association. To educate the rising family caregiver demographic, the Area Agency on Aging of Central Texas hosts training classes each month to teach proper care methods.

Buchanan attended the inaugural class, which focused on providing care to dementia patients. Even though she'd been taking care of her husband for several years, she said she learned new skills.

"It's been really helpful," she said of the three-day, 12-hour class. "I didn't realize using gloves so much was for his protection."

The class, which uses the Schmieding Method of home-based care, covers topics such as how to manage fluid and food intake, activities for mental, physical and cognitive stimulation and how to prevent caregiver burnout.

"They get skills to be able to feel confident to take care of their family member," said Thom Wilson, a coordinator with the state agency. "We want them to be competent and capable and to do so in a safe environment."

During a lesson on fluids and feeding patients, Wilson showed how to check the lips of patients in the morning to determine their level of dehydration. He had a selection of cups that ease drinking for patients, such as the "nosey cup," which allows people with arthritis in the neck to drink without tilting their head back and their nose getting in the way.

In addition to classroom instruction, the state agency received a grant to build the Care House, which is a simulation lab created to look like an apartment. The facility has medical mannequins and the type of medical equipment that Medicare will provide.

"We know there's a growing population of elderly and most don't want to go to a nursing home," said Pam Lewis, a wellness specialist and training workshop coordinator at the agency. "We want to make sure caregivers in the community are given the opportunity to get training in home health care."

Jeff Nagel of Copperas Cove has been caring for his mother for the past six years and took the class to see what new information he could gather. "I would recommend the class because it not only helps you help them," he said. "But it helps you help yourself."

If you go

The Area Agency on Aging of Central Texas offers family caregiver classes at the Central Texas Council of Governments, 2180 N. Main St. in Belton.

The next three-day class is Dec. 6-8, from 1 to 5 p.m. and will focus on dementia care.

A three-day physical skills class is scheduled for Jan. 10-12.

Classes cost $35 for two people. For more information or to register, call (254) 770-2330 or go to

Contact Rose L. Thayer at or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

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