Workshop to help caregivers

awileman@sierrastar.comJanuary 28, 2014 

According to the Family Caregiving Alliance there are more than 65.7 million caregivers in the United States personally caring for loved ones who are either ill, aged, or disabled. With the increasing cost of health care and the availability of resources, more Americans are choosing to keep their family close while they are in their most fragile state — something that makes sense when you think about what our elders (parents) have done for us throughout our youth and developmental years.

A caregiver is an unpaid, in some cases paid, relative or friend of a disabled individual who helps the person with their daily activities which in many cases requires feeding, bathing, changing and full-time monitoring.

One illness that almost always requires caregiving is Alzheimers. According to a reports given by Alzheimers Association, as of 2012 more than 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimers with more than 5.2 million of them being over the age of 65. One of the major and most common symptoms of Alzheimers is dementia, which affects the memory, language, attention and problem solving areas in the brain.

With these difficulties, caregivers are required to give 24 hour-a-day services for the individual suffering from the illness. Many people have never been exposed to Alzheimers and cannot begin to imagine the difficulties a caregiver faces while taking care of a person who was once able and willing to provide for themselves.

So what is being done to help the caregivers themselves?

With the high stress situation and demanding hours, caregivers tend to suffer from side-affects themselves such as depression, anger, and the ability to make difficult and life altering decisions.

This is why individuals all over the nation have gotten together to create groups and organizations to help combat these problems facing the caregiver.

In recent years more individuals and groups have taken steps to help caregivers take care of themselves which in a round about way makes for a better environment and care for the individual who is suffering from the disease.

Many Americans have banded together to create support groups and outreach programs throughout the nation to better educate people on how they can maintain their stress levels and better understand what is necessary to take care of themselves both mentally and physically.

One of these support groups, called Valley Caregivers Resource Center, is located right in the heart to the Central Valley and with the support of the local community members has reached out to form a workshop for the caregivers of the Mountain Area.

Valley Caregivers Resource Center will be hosting the Powerful Tool for Caregivers workshop on the second and fourth Tuesday of February and March. The four day class, designed to help individuals with the hardships of caregiving and allows those in attendance to obtain information on issues like reducing stress, reducing guilt, communication skills, anger, and depression.

The class will be held at the Oakhurst Lutheran Church and invites caregivers looking to better understand what can be done to improve the quality, to join and work on their relationships while acting as a caregiver for their loved one. The workshop is not affiliated with any specific religion and will focus solely on the benefits of understanding their role as caregiver as well as give a forum of other people going through a similar difficult time.

The workshop will be hosted by Valley Caregivers Resource Center Program Manager Yee Vue and Gee Lee, and is designed to mimic a program started at Stanford University, currently being taught in more than 30 states around the nation. It is known as a self-care management program for people who are caring for a family member, relative, or friends who is dealing with and illness, disability or more specifically dementia caused by Alzheimers.

Vue says the program came about roughly five years ago and the point of the workshop is to help those who are caregivers better understand their role and what they can do to make their lives more manageable.

"The program is geared towards caregivers, teaching them self-control, exercise, relaxing techniques, reduce depression and how to cope with caregiving demands," Vue said. "The clientele we serve is the caregiver, but by serving the caregiver we indirectly serve the patients."

According to group facilitator, Carol Breit, Oakhurst currently offers a support group with similar intentions and after one of the support group meetings Breit was approached by Vue who recommended they put together the workshop in Oakhurst twice a month to make it easier and more accessible for the people of the Mountain Area.

"For them (Mountain Area residents) commuting down here to Fresno once a week for six weeks can be overwhelming and that tends to create a barrier to attend the class. So we decided to come to the Oakhurst area ourselves and offer a more available workshop for the people of the Mountain Area," Vue said.

Normally the workshop is held on six consecutive weeks but for timing purposes has been condensed into a four day program. Breit currently helps run a support center on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month and scheduled the workshop around the same time for people who are already scheduling around that time.

Reta Fields-Cortines, of Oakhurst, was a caregiver for her husband who was diagnosed with Alzheimers eight to nine years ago and says although she was hesitant to attend the support group she now feels that without the help of the support group and workshop she would not have made it through the process.

"The support group workshops was invaluable, I don't believe I could have made it through this time in my life without the support I received. I was an emotional wreck and it made me do something healthy for myself. It validated what I was going through and how I was feeling." Fields-Cortines said. "You need to take care of yourself...you need to be able to stay healthy and replenish your mind."

Fields-Cortines says she recommends that anyone who is dealing with being a caregiver attend the program and believes it can help in many aspects of personal health.

"I absolutely recommend the workshop and support center for people...you become so focused on the person you are caring for you don't tend to take care of yourself and the workshop and support group gave me the tools to take care of myself and better handle the situation. Most of us have not had any experience dealing with the situation before," Fields-Cortines said.

Fields-Cortines wants those who are thinking about attending to know that it is more than just exercise techniques and mental aid, but rather involves financial advice as well as legal advice.

Breit says the organization she works with also provides a respite for those who are caregiving as a place to leave their loved ones while they are doing what is necessary for themselves such as attend the workshop. There, each individual can be introduced to other people dealing with illness, or disabilities, and not feel singled out.

The four day workshop begins on Feb. 11, and will be held at the Oakhurst Lutheran Church. Those interested are asked to sign up one week in advance and can contact the Valley Caregivers Resource Center for sign-ups and more information. Respite will be available the day of the workshop for those who need caretakers for their loved ones.

Details: Coral Breit: (559) 683-4045 or Valley Caregivers Resource Center 1-800-541-8614 or email: info@valleycrc.org

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