"We don't work in isolation," Hoffman said, noting that the office regularly works with agencies ranging from Grassroots to the faith-based community.

One of the county's newest efforts to help families is an annual daylong conference for caregivers. The first was held last year and attracted about 60 people. The second will be held Saturday, Nov. 9, at the North Laurel Community Center, and Hoffman said she expects twice as many participants.

The free event will include seminars on legal issues, managing stress and other topics, and a mock support group for those who might be curious about what is involved. In addition, Liss will meet one-on-one with caregivers with questions. Respite care will be provided, freeing caregivers to attend the workshops alone.

"We've had caregivers ask for something like this," Liss said. "Part of what happens with caregivers is they feel a great sense of isolation, that they're the only one in this type of situation. So for them to have an arena to come together at an event like this, it's very eye-opening for them, very comforting."


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'One-stop shop'

Clair Cohen, of Clarksville, who cares for her 70-year-old husband Jerry, attended last year's conference and plans to attend this year's as well.

"It's a one-stop shop for caregivers," Cohen said. "The information it took me six years to get and figure out, I could've gotten in one day there."

Seven years ago, Cohen's husband had a major stroke. He was forced to retire from his job as a senior software engineer, and, while she still works full time out of her home, she now also manages her husband's care. That means providing transportation to appointments and activities, ordering medications, doing all the home repairs and other home-related duties — the list is long.

She gets respite care eight hours a week and has relied on country resources that she calls invaluable, but the bulk of the care falls to her.

"You have to make so many decisions on your own," she said. "But I think I've become much stronger."

Colette Roberts agrees that being a caregiver is a life-changer.

Like Cohen, Roberts, of Columbia, cares for her husband. James Roberts, 80, a Rouse Co. executive for 25 years, was diagnosed with dementia five years ago and his condition has steadily worsened.

Today, he needs help with even simple tasks and is also prone to wandering, which means she must be constantly vigilant.

"If I step out for a minute, he'll go out and walk," said Roberts, 73. "The neighbors know, and they'll bring him home."

James Roberts has developed obsessive-compulsive tendencies, his wife said, which cause him to rearrange items at home and even in grocery stores, and also is struggling with incontinence.

"Oh my God, have I learned to be patient," Roberts said. "And I'm normally not a patient person. … It's like taking care of a 4-year-old again. That's what makes it difficult. … I love him to pieces, but I miss my husband."

Special challenges

Those county residents sandwiched between caring for parents and children face special challenges.

"I guess I always knew this might happen," said one such resident, Sharon Barnes, of Columbia. "I just thought I'd be able to plan it — that it wouldn't just happen so fast."

Barnes, 48, has two children, ages 4 and 8, and a stepdaughter in college. Her 72-year-old mother has lived with her for five years, and more recently, her mother-in-law, also 72, suffered a stroke and moved from New Jersey to live with Barnes as well.