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August 9, 2011 > Family Caregivers Need Skills to Take Care of Loved Ones - and Themselves

Family Caregivers Need Skills to Take Care of Loved Ones - and Themselves

Learn more at upcoming free workshop

Every year, more than one million Americans are diagnosed with a brain disorder. It's estimated that between 13 million and 16 million people in this country are living with a cognitive impairment. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Many brain-related disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke and Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia, are progressive, which means they tend to become more severe as time passes. These conditions occur more frequently in older people.

Caring for someone with a cognitive deficit often becomes a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job. The Alzheimer's Disease Education & Referral Center reports that up to 16 million American households are involved in providing care to a family member with a brain disorder.

Long-term care for someone with dementia and other brain disorders is demanding. Often numerous family members from different households are involved, as they juggle other family priorities and work responsibilities.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports 5.3 million people currently have Alzheimer 's disease, the most common type of dementia. With the aging of our population, this number is expected to double by 2050. Chances are, many of us already are helping to care for someone with dementia, or we can expect to be called upon in the years to come.

If you are caring for a person with dementia, or you'd like to prepare for the future, you're invited to a free, two-hour workshop, "Caring for Someone with Dementia," presented by Donna Schempp, LCSW (licensed clinical social worker). Sponsored by Washington Hospital, the class will be held on Tuesday, August 16 at 1 p.m. in Conrad E. Anderson M.D., Auditorium next to Washington Hospital (Washington West) at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. To reserve your spot, go online to www.whhs.com and look under Upcoming Seminars, or call (800) 963-7070.

"Most people have never received any training in caregiving, so they may approach it in ways that are making it harder on themselves and the patient," says Schempp, who was a program director for the Family Care Alliance for 10 years. "This workshop is designed to give people a basic understanding of dementia and some useful insights into what you need to know as a caregiver of someone with a cognitive impairment."

When you are called on to be a caregiver, it's possible that this role may extend over many years, and you might tend to put your own life on hold during that time, explains Schempp. It's important to get information on how to care for yourself as well as your loved one, so that you do not experience depression, isolation and burn out.

For example, identifying things that are causing you stress will help you learn ways to manage that stress. Common problems are people judging themselves negatively for not being perfect, as well as the inability to ask for help.

"It's important to look at what can and cannot be changed about an individual caregiving situation, and we'll talk about that at the workshop, too," she adds.

People in a caregiving situation should also identify their role. "Many times, people will say 'I'm just the wife, or the brother, or the daughter,' and they don't identify themselves as 'the caregiver,'" explains Schempp. "Once you identify your role, there are a lot of services available to help you, and many of them are free."

For example, the Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org), is a community-based, non-profit organization that provides an array of information, services and support for people in caregiver situations.

Another important point is that caring for someone with dementia is unlike anything else you do in your life, and the best practices may seem to go against your intuition.

"It takes skill and the ability to learn a new role and relate differently to someone," Schempp says. "What you need to know in this situation is vastly different from knowing how to transfer someone or give them a bath."

She explains that most people want to keep those with dementia grounded in reality, and feel it is important to be truthful and straightforward. Yet, people with dementia are often confused or see things differently. Sometimes, it is better to go along with what they believe, rather than pointing out that they are wrong.

"It may be the only way to get things done, and it can be the kinder thing to do, instead of getting into an argument," says Schempp. "The kind of relationship we have with a given person, particularly a parent, is hardwired into us, and we don't think it should change. But, if you do change, it will make caring for someone with dementia easier."

Finally, it's important to realize that, as a caregiver, you can't do it alone. The longer people are caregivers, the more isolated they become. Caregivers of people with dementia are 50 percent more likely to have depression. Compared to the average population, all caregivers have a higher likelihood of becoming sick or dying during the five to seven years after they stop caregiving.

"It's important that caregivers understand the price they are paying," concludes Schempp. "That's why they need support and information."

For more information about dementia and Alzheimer 's disease, go online to the Alzheimer's Association Web site at www.alz.org.

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