Caregiving and aging is something that affects all of us. As the population of older adults balloons in the U.S., family caregivers come to play a more and more important role in long term care. Though many people think that most who need care are in nursing homes, about 85 to 90 percent are cared for in their own homes or in the home of a family member by family.

Every 70 seconds, someone in the United States is diagnosed with some form of dementia. The most rapidly increasing population of older Americans is age 85 plus. Itís true that most of us have been or will be a caregiver of an older adult, and it is very probable that we will need a caregiver at some time in our later years.

The demands of caring for an older loved one can be overwhelming. Caregivers are at an increased risk for chronic health problems and depression. It is not unusual for a caregiver to die before their loved one for whom they have cared. A large percentage of caregivers are employed when they begin caregiving, but the demands of caregiving frequently lead to reducing hours of work or leaving the work force entirely.

Fortunately, if you are caring for an older adult, there is support and training available to you and it is free. mmLearn.org, a San Antonio nonprofit organization and part of Morningside Ministries, is reaching out to caregivers of older adults in the Rio Grande Valley. Morningside Ministries, which has been serving older adults through independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing communities for almost 50 years, is committed to also supporting family caregivers.

How does mmLearn.org support family caregivers? It is through empowering them with knowledge and skills. Caregivers in the Rio Grande Valley can watch 100 free online videos, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at www.mmLearn.org. The training can help build a caregivers knowledge about medical conditions and help them build specific skills. This approach helps caregivers understand aging, learn how to provide care and builds confidence, and in the process, caregiver stress can diminish.

How would you like to have a geriatrician, a physician specializing in aging, or a physical therapist come to your home to give you the information you need? That is exactly what happens through access to the 100 free online videos at mmLearn.org. Training is provided on a wide range of topics by experts in the field of aging.

Three videos by Drs. Martha Leatherman and Beth Goethe address how to make a home safer for someone with dementia. Dr. Jason Schillerstrom, a geriatric psychiatrist at the University of Texas medical school in San Antonio, has a four part series that includes types of dementia, depression and the elderly, difficult behaviors and judgment and decision making. A dementia series in Spanish will be available in May.

Other videos cover diverse topics including falls, the #1 cause of accidental death among older adults. The website www.mmLearn.org has a three part series to help reduce falls. Some of the videos address practical skills such as how to transfer someone from a wheelchair to a car, toilet or shower/tub seat. Others deal with nutrition and older adults. One important topic is caregiver stress, and the topic is covered in a number of free videos including recordings by Dr. Martha Leatherman, Dr. Beth Goethe and Dr. Thomas Weiss.

Free videos can be watched on a personal computer at any time. By using a projector and laptop, the videos can be shown to a group. Senior centers, home healthcare, nursing homes and other organizations use the training to benefit older adults, family caregivers and healthcare providers. Viewers can also send questions to mmLearn.org after watching a video. During free live webcasts, participants can ask the expert questions as part of the presentation. About 15 videos are available in Spanish and will expand to include more topics in 2010.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley Area Agency on Aging and Leezaís Place in McAllen have also made this free resource available to older adults and their caregivers whether you are caregiver of an older adult or an organization serving older adults.

For more information or to request a copy of the 2010 course catalog, e-mail info@mmLearn.org or call 210-734-1211. To speak with someone in Spanish, call 210-734-1212 .

This column was contributed by Nancy Dunn Thompson, Executive Director of mmLearn.org.. She has focused her energy on providing training and support to family caregivers.

Mary Garza Cummings is a free-lance writer. To contact her, email askseniorfocus@aol.com