Day 7: Caregiver College

November 7, 2011

By Michelle Venegas, LCSW – Director of Programs and Services at Family Caregiver Alliance

“How do I help my Dad get out of the tub with out hurting either of us? Should I help my partner floss or should I just let it go? What can I do about my Mom’s refusal to sleep in her bed; she prefers the reclining chair in the living room? My wife asks the same questions over and over and over again and it’s driving me nuts. I feel overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and resentment and I feel guilty for feeling these feelings!”

These are just a few of the questions and concerns addressed in our Caregiver College workshops sponsored by The Palo Alto Medical Foundation Community Health Care Endowment Fund, the East Bay Foundation on Aging, a supporting organization of The San Francisco Foundation and Mills Peninsula Health Services. Workshop topics include Behavioral Challenges, Transfer Skills, Toileting, Bathing and Dressing, Dental Care Nutrition, and Caregiver Self-Care. This program was designed in response to caregivers telling us, the service provider, what they need.

The number of family caregivers is growing. The number of adult children, spouses, siblings and partners who care for somebody with cognitive impairments and diseases (dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s) is swelling. These caregivers are overwhelmed with the immense responsibilities that caregiving brings. These responsibilities are often accompanied by emotional turmoil and financial concerns. Caregivers are looking for guidance because they don’t know where to turn or which issue to tackle first. They want to understand where this journey of caregiving is heading. We often hear from family caregivers they need answers and they want practical advice. Caregiver College offers these in a supportive group setting through hands-on experiences.

Caregiver College workshops are popular because in addition to learning from various presenters, family caregivers share and learn from each other. They benefit from hearing from others who have had similar experiences. They learn they are not alone. They are surrounded by a room full of caregivers who can offer reassurance, new ideas and an intimate understanding of what it’s like to care for somebody you hold dear to you who is slipping away.

Caregivers are taught that the person they are caring for still feels the same for them in spite of their sometimes aggressive, hurtful behavior. They learn this is due to changes in brain structures and that just because their reactions or responses change doesn’t mean their feelings change. Their brains are working differently. Caregivers are surprised to hear that it’s common for a person with dementia to be self-centered. They assume that this is unique to their situation. They learn to adjust their expectations based on what their care receiver is actual capable of doing.

Caregivers know that moving or re-positioning somebody who has problems with mobility is often very challenging. With the right techniques, equipment and approach transferring somebody can be done is a safe and thoughtful manner. Real life situations are presented such as transferring somebody in and out of a wheel chair, bed and car or on and off a toilet seat. Another challenge that commonly evokes fear in caregivers is managing toileting and incontinence. In the workshops they discover that this is more manageable then they think.

As with toileting and incontinence, caregivers are taught to bath and dress the person they are caring for with respect, patience and a gentle hand. Caregivers learn how to create a safe environment, how to allow as much independence as possible and what equipment (grab bars, detachable shower hose, bath chair) and clothing (big buttons, Velcro, elastic fasteners, low-cut/non-slip shoes) to consider. Caregiver College also focuses on the importance of dental and oral care to prevent gum disease and how poor oral health can lead to a number of systematic health issues, including heart attacks, strokes and pneumonia.

In the nutritional segment, caregivers are taught how to provide well balanced, delicious meals that engage the senses and make meal time pleasurable. They are encouraged to consider their care receiver’s tastes, medications they are taking and any allergic reactions. Finally, in the self-care segment caregivers learn the importance of caring for themselves and how that can impact their care for the care receiver. Caregivers who make time for themselves (life outside of their role as a caregiver), learn to cope in healthy ways and are better rested, more patient and have better control over their own emotional responses.

Workshop participants are also given a DVD created by FCA as a supplement to the workshop. This DVD portrays a real caregiver and care receiver and is broken down into seven vignettes. The idea is for the caregiver to use this DVD of what they learned in the workshop to assist them in their home environment. For caregivers that can’t attend Caregiver College in person, we have also recently uploaded the lessons to FCA’s Youtube channel.

If you are interested in upcoming Caregiver College workshops, please see our website at www.caregiver.org or contact our Education Coordinator, Hilary Toyryla, directly at 415.434.3388 ext 317.

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Creative Commons License
Day 7: Caregiver College by Michelle Venegas – FCA Director of Programs and Services is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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