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My name is Sheila Henrichsen, and I am a Family Caregiver Specialist at Aging Resources of Central Iowa. Growing up in a large family and a close-knit rural community, helping family and neighbors was “the norm” rather than the exception. My brother was in an ATV accident as a child, sustaining a brain injury.  Along with the lengthy hospital stay and injuries came the knowledge that life can suddenly change. One of my parents was always in the hospital with him during this time. My family was very fortunate to have plenty of help from our neighbors, people who, unsolicited, took time out of their busy lives to help keep our household functioning.

Although I disliked the sterile setting of the hospital and its antiseptic smell, I will never forget the comforting healthcare staff that somehow made me feel a little less nervous about visiting my brother.  The experience of my brother’s accident was probably the impetus for my deciding to become an occupational therapist. I graduated from St. Ambrose University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Occupational Therapy, and worked as an occupational therapist for many years, in multiple settings, including hospital, home health, and skilled nursing homes. While I continue to keep my occupational therapy license current, my role for the past eight years has been working as a Family Caregiver Specialist at Aging Resources.  I also, with a lot of help from others, currently provide care to my mother who has dementia.

Although my personal experience has provided some first-hand knowledge on the rewards and challenges of caregiving, my professional experience has informed me that everyone’s situation is unique. Everyone’s history is different, as is their current and past relationships to whom they are providing care.  Caregiving can be rewarding, but it can also be messy, frustrating, exhausting, isolating, and downright difficult. There are no clear guidelines to the ever-changing role as caregiver. My goal as a Caregiver Specialist is to provide information and non-judgmental guidance on options that may support your role as a caregiver, in relation to your unique circumstances and values.