Tapping into community-based services for aging Iowans

Swisher woman describes challenges of caring for aging parents

Christine Smith, an Americorps Vista member with the Heritage Agency on Aging, gets startled by sounds playing in her he
Christine Smith, an Americorps Vista member with the Heritage Agency on Aging, gets startled by sounds playing in her headphones while she participates in the Virtual Dementia Tour during Caregiving Connections, a program sponsored by AARP and the Heritage Area Agency on Aging, to provide resources for caregivers in Marion on Thursday, November 20, 2014. The tour was created by Right at Home, and is intended give caregivers a glimpse into the life of those who suffer from dementia in order to provide better care. (Sy Bean/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — When Wanda Feyerabend was caring for her aging parents in her 20s and 30s, she had no idea community resources were available for family caregivers.

“I was burning the candle at both ends and in the middle,” said Feyerabend, 58, of Swisher. “I didn’t know there were programs out there.”

Iowa’s Area Agencies on Aging, which includes the Heritage Area Agency on Aging in Cedar Rapids, have a one-stop shop for people who want to learn what resources are available to care for loved ones in the community. Recently solidified with a contract between the Iowa Department on Aging and the Iowa Medicaid Enterprise, the agencies want to help Iowans avoid higher levels of care — such as a nursing home — if they don’t need it, said Eugenia Vavra, support supervisor for the local program.

“We want people to look at all home- and community-based options first,” she said.

In addition to family caregivers, Iowa seniors rely on neighbors, friends, free programs such as Meals on Wheels or hired caregivers, according to research by Sato Ashida, University of Iowa assistant professor of community and behavioral health.

Feyerabend was the primary caregiver for her parents for about 15 years until they died in 1999.

“I was not married and had no children, so it all fell on my shoulders,” she said. “I missed out on a lot of social activities, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Feyerabend lived with her parents on their 150-acre farm near The Eastern Iowa Airport. She worked full time as a legal secretary, but when her mother or father called for help, she drove home to sort things out before going back to work.

Feyerabend’s mother, Dorothy, suffered a stroke and dealt with a heart condition and high blood pressure. Her father, Lumir, tried to do everything himself, but his health declined in his 80s. Feyerabend moved them to a Swisher duplex in 1998.

The pressure of caring for her parents — and worrying about their health — was overwhelming.

“One day, I was getting my hair done and I started crying for no reason,” Feyerabend said.

The outburst was fortuitous, because her hairdresser knew someone who could help. Feyerabend started talking with everyone about services for elderly Iowans. She applied for assistance, but her parents died a short time later.

“My advice is to network, network, network,” she said.

Iowans may also call (866) 468-7887 or go to to set up a meeting with an options counselor from an area agency on aging.

Feyerabend was the first of her friends to care for aging parents, but she’s not the last. “Now I have a friend who is caring for her parents. I was able to be there and be the support for her.”

Feyerabend is one of four Iowans who shared their stories on the AARP’s I Heart Caregivers website, which has stories and photos from family caregivers across the nation. Add your story at:

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