Carol Breit, an Ahwahnee resident, is painfully aware of the importance of having support, of knowing you’re not alone, of hearing feedback on how other caregivers deal with troubling behaviors their patients may exhibit due to an illness.
Many years ago, Breit’s grandmother had dementia. Because she died before there was an area support group available, Breit felt alone, overwhelmed, riddled with guilt, and helpless throughout the entire experience.
“It’s hard to see someone you love going through changes because of dementia or Alzheimer’s, difficult to watch them lose who they used to be,” said Breit. “The hardest part is the guilt. You want to make the person better, to make them happy. You feel like you don’t want to go out and have any fun because your relative is miserable.”
While she may not have had the comfort and understanding of a support group back then, she is currently content in her role of coordinating an Oakhurst support group under the umbrella of Valley Caregiver Resource Center in Fresno, which will offer a free workshop to unpaid caregivers, 10 a.m. - noon, Sept. 13, at the Oakhurst Lutheran Church.
Attendees will learn how to better understand what dementia is and what it’s not, along with practical tips for coping with associated behaviors like aggression, agitation, hallucinations, paranoia, repetitive speech, and wandering.
They will come away with a better understanding of their role and what they can do to make their lives more manageable, which will have a domino effect, impacting their patients in a positive way.
Who are the caregivers?
A caregiver, sometimes referred to as an informal caregiver, is an unpaid individual (spouse, partner, family member, friend, or neighbor) assisting in daily living activities, such as feeding, bathing, toileting, and changing.
Caregivers monitor the individual suffering from the illness 24 hours-a-day. Many have never been exposed to Alzheimers (and its most common symptom, dementia) and cannot begin to imagine the difficulties faced while caring for someone who was once able and willing to provide for themselves.
In 2015, the Alzheimer’s Association determined there were about 15.7 million adult family caregivers caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The care of an aging parent was the primary situation for mid-life caregivers.
Breit has been coordinating the Mountain Area caregiver support group for about 25 years. She said she runs into former caregivers around town, who still comment that they don’t know what they would have done without the support they received.
One of those former caregivers is Reta Fields-Cortines, of Oakhurst, who was the main caregiver for her husband, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s many years ago before his death. At that time, Fields-Cortines called the support group invaluable, a validation of what she was going through and how she was feeling. It also gave her the necessary tools to take care of herself, replenish her mind, and better handle the situation.
It’s no wonder that, given the high stress and demanding hours, caregivers tend to suffer from the side-effects of depression, anger, and the challenging task of making difficult and life altering decisions. This explains the many support groups and organizations that have popped up nationwide.
Breit’s support group is held the second and fourth Tuesday of the month, from 10-11:30 a.m., at the Oakhurst Lutheran Church. For details, call Breit at (559) 683-4045.
Pre-registration is required for the caregiver workshop. Some financial assistance is available for those wanting to attend the workshop and support groups. Call Valley Caregiver Resource Center, (559) 224-9154, or (800) 541-8614 to reserve a spot in the workshop or to ask about financial aid.