Aging Well: Taking care of the caregiver

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Caregiver support

Local support groups for caregivers or family members of adults with Alzheimer's disease or dementia:

• Steamboat Springs: Meets from 3 to 4 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month in the VNA lounge, 940 Central Park Drive, Suite 101. Call Barbara Bronner at 879-8942.

• Craig: Meets at 2 p.m. the third Saturday of each month in the conference room at the Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab Center, 943 at West Eighth Drive. Call Tracey Behrman at 826-4100.

The VNA is planning caregiver support programs at The Haven Community Center in Hayden (under construction) and the future Rollingstone Respite House in Steamboat. For more information, call 871-7676.

For more

This is the third in a three-part series about caring for aging parents or relatives long-distance.

March 10: Creating a care plan.

Last Week: Overcoming barriers of resistance.

Today: Caregiver health and support.

Rene Mattone of Steamboat Springs feels fortunate to have six siblings living near her aging parents in Ohio. Although she's involved in family decisions, her brothers and sisters handle the daily care of their parents and their parents' farm.

In some respects, living far away is easier because Mattone doesn't have to witness the changes in her parents - her father is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and her mother has cancer - yet the distance often leaves her feeling guilty and helpless.

"I feel like I'd like to be able to do more, like I'm a little bit of a disappointment because I can't be there," she said.

Living far away from an aging parent - especially one who is injured or sick - can be an emotional rollercoaster for an adult child, who must cope with worry, frustration and feelings of inadequacy. These feelings are compounded by the stress of caring for that person over hundreds or thousands of miles.

Finding the time to take care of themselves may be difficult for caregivers, yet maintaining their physical and mental wellbeing is critical in balancing the inevitable stress of caregiving in all types of situations.

"Long Distance Caregiving," a guide from the MetLife Mature Market Institute, offers suggestions for avoiding the negative effects of stress, such as depression and illness.

Caregivers should periodically reassess their situation and consider asking other family members to take on tasks or enlist the help of aging-related programs or a geriatric care manager.

Signs caregivers may need more help include depression, chronic fatigue, excessive use of alcohol, sleeping pills or other medications, panic attacks or unexplained anxiety or mood swings/irritability.

In addition to maintaining a healthy diet and exercise, caregivers should pay attention to chronic headaches, back aches, sleep problems, stomach pains and other problems that could signal illness.

It's also important that caregivers stay connected with friends and make time for activities they enjoy. They might ask friends to be persistent about including them in gatherings and activities even if the caregivers initially decline.

Last year, Mattone re-channeled some of her sadness about her mother's cancer through the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. It also connected her with others going through similar circumstances.

"It was very, very emotional in a positive way : For me that was a way that I personally could do something that's meaningful to me," said Mattone, who was a team captain for the event.

Seeking help

Establishing a support network, either with friends in similar situations or through a formal support group, can provide caregivers useful strategies while helping diffuse their worry, grief and frustration.

Mattone, for example, has found comfort in talking with co-workers who are cancer survivors and understand what her mother is experiencing. They share tips for good conversations Mattone can have with her mother and advice for making the most of phone conversations and visits.

"I've found those people that have gone through this have been a tremendous help and have a lot to offer," she said.

Support groups focused on a particular type of caregiving situation, such as long-distance caregiving or caring for elders with a certain condition, can be particularly helpful.

"To be able to come together with people who realize and know what you're talking about : is amazingly comforting and reassuring," said Barbara Bronner, who coordinates monthly meetings in Steamboat for caregivers and family members of adults with Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

Reminding caregivers to take time for themselves is an important focus of a similar group in Craig.

"It's a real close support group," coordinator Tracey Behrman said. "They are really good about sharing information and suggestions."

Caregivers who cannot find a support group in their area or who can't fit meetings into their schedule can join online caregiver discussion groups. The Family Caregiver Alliance's Web site, www.caregiver.org, is among the many places to find active discussions on caregiving topics.

Ultimately, caregivers need to be nice to themselves by giving themselves credit for what they are able to do and not obsessing over things they can't change or control.

Caregivers are naturally going to worry about their aging parent or relative living far away, but working with that person to establish the best situation possible can ease their concerns, explained Susan Collins, assistant professor of gerontology at the University of Northern Colorado.

Being mindful that the older person is an individual with his or her own opinions and fears, involving that person in decisions as much as possible and being open and flexible to their preferences, can also help reduce a caregiver's feelings of guilt.

"Most older adults today do not expect long-distance caregivers to return and give care, but they do want to know that their family member still loves them, is concerned about them and respects them," she said.

It's also helpful to keep in mind the positive aspects of caregiving that have been confirmed in research, Collins said.

For example, caregivers can feel satisfied in fulfilling an important duty and that is helping their elder receive good care. They may also find an important sense of purpose or meaning in their responsibilities, attain personal or spiritual growth and discover an inner strength in coping with the challenges.

Tamera Manzanares can be reached at tammarie74@yahoo.com.

Comments

gatorhunter 6 years ago

Are people with aging/ ill/ dying grandparents who are in a long distance caregiving role invited to attend these support groups? I have 2 grandmothers in the hospital 2000 miles away, and can't go be there physically. I send flowers and cards and call often, but feel inadequate. In fact the guilt is becoming detrimental to my health and relationships with the rest of my family. I would love a support group!

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