Most people's introduction to caregiving is a "need to know" experience, says Pam Swisher of the Lifespan Respite Network of Jackson County (LRN) in Medford. Family members are often faced with an immediate decision and are totally unprepared for what awaits them, she says.

Most people's introduction to caregiving is a "need to know" experience, says Pam Swisher of the Lifespan Respite Network of Jackson County (LRN) in Medford. Family members are often faced with an immediate decision and are totally unprepared for what awaits them, she says.

"It's scary, it's time-consuming and it will change your life," Swisher says. The trick is to find good resources that will help mitigate potential damage to the caregiver and the cared-for.

LRN is one such resource. Hosted by The Arc of Jackson County (a United Way Agency), the program offers information and referrals about respite services to family caregivers who are caring for someone, regardless of the patient's age, income, ethnicity or needs.

"This year, LRN has served over 170 families and fielded over 500 calls," says Swisher of the co-op respite program for kids, adults and seniors who require 24/7 care. "This is an affordable choice of respite where the primary caregiver can either volunteer hour-for-hour or pay $5 an hour."

And caregivers can search LRN's database of in-home private care providers, whose fees start around $10 an hour, or learn about other options for in-home, community-based services, overnight or weekend care or recreation activities.

They also can arm themselves with "tools to increase their self-care and their confidence to handle difficult situations, emotions and decisions around the role of caregiving" by attending LRN's The Powerful Tools for Caregiving six-week class, says Swisher. Available throughout the year, the class schedule is available on Arc's comprehensive Web site, www.thearcjackson.org, which also features Community Resource Guide and support group information.

"Accessing the Web opens many doors about educating yourself as a caregiver or learning more about the disease," says Swisher. "There is so much information that can assist caregivers — they just need to reach out and ask for help."

LRN is also sponsoring their Fifth Annual Caregiving Workshop on Friday, April 25th, as part of the Jackson County Respite Awareness Week (April 20-26). Presenters include Sharon Johnson, Associate Professor at Oregon State University, who will speak on "Caring for Ourselves, Strategies for All Caregivers" and Mitch Teal, Special Needs Trusts Director of The Arc of Oregon, who will present "Financial Planning for People with Disabilities."