September 9, 2002
'Taking Care of You'
By Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Writer
My mother-in-law, Margaret Wilson, awoke to the sound of a loud crash at 4 a.m. a few days before Christmas. Her husband, suffering from a stroke, had collapsed to the floor minutes after getting out of bed. At that moment, life changed for Margaret and Ed Wilson. In the days that followed, Ed struggled to regain his speech that was now slurred and slow. He could no longer operate his computer, drive his car, use a can opener or open a bottle of pills. Margaret stepped in to help him. She drove him to the doctor and doled out his medication. She sacrificed many nights sleep, caring for him in the middle of the night. She kept her social plans to a bare minimum, not wanting to leave him home alone. Her dream of cruising through the Panama Canal was on hold.
Without realizing it, my mother-in-law had assumed a 24-hour unpaid position called caregiver. The assignment can come upon anyone, right in the middle of a busy life.
With or without warning, a spouse, parent or child could develop a chronic disease or disability that requires constant attention, patience and love. Should that happen to you, you'll find your efforts rewarding, but also highly stressful.
Social worker Susy Favaro and registered nurse Pat Olsen understand the stress that goes with the difficult challenges caregivers face. They know that depression and stress-related illnesses will likely develop if caregivers ignore their own needs. For this reason, they offer a six-week course called "Taking care of you: powerful tools for caregiving." The classes provide caregivers of a 60-year old or older family member with tools to increase confidence and self-care skills. The upcoming series will be the 12th since the first set of classes began September 2001 in King and Snohomish counties. The series begins Sept. 24 through Oct. 29, meeting every Tuesday at the Riverside Landing Apartments in Bothell from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. "It's a fabulous curriculum that focuses on taking care of the caregiver," says Favaro, adding that the idea is relatively new.
Participants will develop action plans and set goals as they cover a variety of topics, including: stress reduction, effective communication, how to deal with guilt and anger, decision-making, goal setting and problem solving.
In addition, the 300-page book "The Caregiver Help Book" by Vicki Schmall, Ph.D., will be given to each caregiver who attends the class. The book serves as an excellent resource covering all caregiving facets from nursing home placements to how to take away the car keys.
"The real philosophy of this class is looking at the emotional roller coaster that the caregiver is on," says Favaro. Class members look at things they can change and control as well as the things they can't and learn not to feel guilty about those. They'll practice assertive communication by using "I" messages, like "I really need the lawn mowed." They also develop personalized action plans each week.
As an example, a caregiver might develop a plan of walking for 20 minutes three times a week. Members pair up and encourage each other to stick with their plan. In the process they share intimate details of their lives and develop close friendships. Favaro recalls members of one series who decided to meet once a week at a Starbuck's after the classes had ended.
"Some class members continue to meet as their own support," she states.
Although coping with isolation can be an obstacle for caregivers, many have an even more difficult time giving themselves permission to focus on self-care. They believe it's selfish. But during the course, they realize the importance. Some come to the awareness during a short film called 'The Dollmaker.' The dramatic story, shown in class, tells of a woman caring for her husband who has Alzheimer's. She pays no attention to her own needs as she administers to her husband's. The film points out a potential deadly consequence. "The movie helps them to see that 'taking care of me' is not just fluff," says Favaro, adding "Caregivers have a right and responsibility to care for themselves, so they can provide the best possible care for their loved one-the care receiver."
Concetta Migliore, a Bothell resident for sixty years, has been caring for her husband, John, for many years. This past year she signed up for the six-week series and says, "The caregivers class helped me so much in learning to put a little emphasis on myself. And, the movie really hit me right-square in the eyes." John has macular degeneration, a condition that developed gradually over the years leaving him legally blind. He first noticed his vision fading while at work building displays at Molbak's garden store. His eyesight continued to dim over the years until he now only sees objects peripherally. He sees the glowing sunset behind a mountain range, but not the food on his plate. Through the classes, Migliore learned the importance of taking time out for herself. "My time out is my music," she says, stating that she plays the grand piano in the atrium at Evergreen Hospital. She also dances at the Northshore Senior Center, noting, "John stands on the floor and I dance around him." She says that helping others has become a joyful outlet too. "I find in helping others, you get out of yourself."
The job of caregiver doesn't discriminate against age. You can take it on in your 80's like Concetta Migliore or in your 20's. Favaro says a wide range of ages, from 20's to 90's, have attended the classes. In addition, baby boomers—those born between 1945 and 1965—may spend more years caring for their parents than they cared for their children. Taking this into account, Favaro and Olsen have begun to prepare for the growing need for more people to teach caregiving skills. As a result, the two have plans to train past or current caregivers to become facilitators of future caregiver classes. King County Family Caregiver Support Program and South Snohomish County Collaborative for Caregiver Support provide funding for the free classes.
If interested in reserving a class space or for more information on becoming a facilitator, contact Susy Favaro at 425-486-4564.