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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Taking care of the caregiver

Mar 02, 2018 06:12PM ● By Jan Weeks

Terry Mizak, right, shares information about HopeWest’s caregiving resources with Callie Varra, left.

Having been a caregiver for my mother-in-law, my mother and my husband until they passed away, I know what a struggle it is to keep from falling apart.

The months of loving care I intended to provide became a slog peppered with guilt—I’d find myself hoping they would die to end their misery and mine. So how do caregivers stay sane?

Terry Mizak, right, shares information about HopeWest’s caregiving resources with Callie Varra, left.

Caregiver Connections is a support group for those who find themselves in a situation they hoped they’d never be in. Headquartered at the HopeWest Care Center, the group is meant for those caring for chronically or terminally ill loved ones, those caring for spouses or others at home, or anyone whose dearest one is in a nursing home or assisted living facility.

The first step in taking care of yourself so you can take better care of others is learning to recognize burnout, said Terry Mizak, Caregiver Connections’ coordinator.

Symptoms of exhaustion in caregivers can include becoming anxious and fearful about not doing the job right, sleeplessness and forgoing their own nutritional needs—especially if they’re elderly—because they’re too tired to shop and cook or because they feel they don’t deserve to be well when their loved one is ill. Caregivers may also suffer physical deterioration, including headaches and ulcers, abandoning personal grooming or just not feeling quite right.

What can you do if you’re at the end of your tether? Mizak gave specific examples of the things that caregivers can do to make their lives less stressful.

Ask for and accept help

Friends and relatives usually want to help, but don’t know how.

“They won’t know unless you tell them,” Mizak said. “Make a list of things, small or large, and have it ready when someone asks, ‘How can I help?’ Can they make a meal? Pick up some milk? Change the sheets on the bed? Sit with your spouse while you run errands or take a walk?”

Isolation increases as the disease or disability progresses, and it’s one of the biggest foes of being able to give quality care. HopeWest patient and family support volunteers provide an antidote to that isolation. Volunteers sit with patients or bring therapy animals to provide a break from routine and enable patients to focus on something besides their illnesses.

“Human contact is really important,” said HopeWest Marketing and Communications Manager Callie Varra. “Just having a conversation with someone you’re not taking care of makes a huge difference.”

Female caretakers tend to be more resistant to allowing others to help, believing they should take care of everything as “nurturers.” Men may also feel reluctance because they see themselves as “protectors,” but Mizak said they are more willing to let others deal with intimate personal care like bathing.

Forgive yourself

“Nobody expects you to be perfect,” Mizak said, “so lose the expectation that you have to do everything yourself.”

Caregivers feel guilty sometimes if they’re not carrying all the responsibility for those whom they feel should be the priority. They see their own interests as selfish, but they should allow the person in their care to help, if possible.

“Let an Alzheimer’s patient fold the laundry,” Mizak said. “Be creative in coming up with things they can do. Let them contribute.”

Can they set the table for meals? Sort clothes to be washed? Put away the clean silverware? Perfection has no place in this situation, but empathy does.

Treat yourself kindly

Caregivers too often lose their own identities in the service of their loved ones. They become an extension of the illness or disability, living only to support the other.

One caretaker Mizak worked with was so frazzled that she finally called for a volunteer to sit with her husband while she took a bubble bath.

“She stayed in the tub for two hours, refilling it as the water cooled, and read a book,” Mizak said. “Not having to worry about what he was getting up to allowed her to relax.”

Have an outlet ritual. Beat the bed with your tennis racquet or scream into your pillow. Find someone who will listen to you vent. Go for a walk. Have your coffee on the patio. Listen to music. Go for a swim while someone else sits in for you. Find one bit of joy or something to appreciate each day.

Acknowledge your grief

Anticipatory grief occurs when both the caregiver and the patient realize that the patient isn’t going to recover. Both have lost life as it was, and it will never be the same.

“It’s as hard for the patients as it is for the caregivers,” Mizak said.

When loved ones pass away, caregivers often don’t know what to do with themselves. HopeWest’s Mending Hearts support group can help with that heartache.

Know your resources

Mizak said she regularly refers to the BEACON Guide to point caregivers toward resources like the local Alzheimer’s Association office. They can also call 211 for a list of resources and contact information. Several for-profit agencies in the area offer respite, non-medical care and homemaking services.

It’s also important to understand payment options. Medicare will pay for in-home help only if it involves medical necessity, such as wound care or therapy. Medicaid has 12 free programs, including day care for dementia patients, homemaker services (such as cleaning, dishes and laundry), feeding and sitting with the patient to give caretakers time for errands or relaxation.

Care partners can take advantage of HopeWest’s programs without having a loved one registered in its hospice program.

Support Groups

Resources can be sent to caregivers who can’t make meetings. To learn more, call 248-8844.

Grand Junction

Caregiver Connections meets from 10-11:30 a.m. Tuesdays at The Artful Cup.

Mending Hearts (grief support) meets from 2-3:30 p.m. Thursdays at The Artful Cup.


Caring for Caregivers meets at 1 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of the month. Call 240-3714 for location.

Family Caregiver Support meets at 1:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of the month at Montrose Memorial Hospital, and the second and fourth Wednesdays at PIC Partners. Call 275-2138.

Mending Hearts (grief support)  meets from 2-3:30 p.m. Wednesdays  at 205 Stafford Lane in Delta and  1-2:30 p.m. at Montrose Center for Hope.

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