Caregivers need help too

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— "Jan" cared for her husband, a victim of two strokes, for years before deciding he would be better off at the Extended Care Center.

Before that, she was responsible for all his care and found it overwhelming. Jan, who does not want her real name used, has sought help from a group at the ECC and has educated herself on strokes.

The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association is holding the first of a series of free seminars for caregivers at noon on July 11 in Conference Room 1 the Yampa Valley Medical Center. Call 879-1632 for more information. The sessions will be at the same time until Aug. 8.

"Just knowing you're not alone and knowing that people feel the same way is helpful," she said.

Therapists Carol Gordon and Roberta Rundell, along with Kay Brovansky of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, are starting a caregiver's education group for this very reason to help caregivers feel like they are not alone, to show them what their options are and to get them in touch with the fact that the way they feel is normal. The focus is on education, however.

"It's much more comprehensive," Brovansky said. "It's not just unloading. We want to show people what their resources are."

The topics covered will be understanding behaviors and family dynamics; communication skills with all involved, from the patient to the caregiver to the medical community; developing coping skills; community and medical resources; and general caregiver well-being.

This is not a long-term group, Brovansky cautioned, but one that people can attend and use as a resource or maybe make a contact. It should give them permanent tools to help themselves and maybe others, ultimately.

"A support group should be a bridge, not a crutch," she said.

For Jan, education was incredibly important, she said. After her husband's strokes, they would periodically attend seminars with other stroke victims and pick up literature. Having knowledge was truly empowering, she said.

The group is for all the diverse faces of caregiving, including those who are administering constant care to a family member or friend, those with older parents not in the same community and those dealing with care in assisted-living, home-health care or hospice situations.

The issues faced by caregivers are diverse, but run very deep, from the loss of freedom to feelings of anger and resentment to harboring guilt, Gordon said. People who are sick are often not the same as they used to be, she said.

"The goal is to find a balance between the need for logical thought so you can have a life, and the emotional war that's going on inside them," Gordon said.

She said that when caregivers lose their freedom, they also lose their natural coping mechanisms, like taking walks, reading or meeting with friends.

"Life changes are happening so rapidly that they're not able to create resentment, so directly out of that comes guilt," Gordon said.

Jan said that after her husband's strokes, he became angry and also required constant care, overwhelming her. Her decision to move him to the ECC was based on a very real and somewhat harsh realization.

"Stroke changes everything forever," she said. "The forever part was very important to me. I kept thinking he's going to get better."

Jan said her decision was ultimately a good one and one she made for herself and for her future life. She said she is more independent and is not selfish, but is merely facing the reality of the situation. She also said that now she can remember the good times she had with her husband.

Gordon said that gains in medicine have allowed people to live longer, but at the same time the support systems, whether it is a close-knit family or a church, have disintegrated. Sometimes just knowing that people care because they call to check in is even more effective than someone actually helping them.


To reach Jennifer Bartlett call 871-4204 or e-mail jbartlett@amigo.net

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