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Seminar aims to help ease ups, downs of caregivers

by News Editor on Saturday, January 26, 2013 11:31 AM

Caregiving can be a richly rewarding experience that can provide a sense of purpose and meaning.

However, as an unplanned necessity in which we are forced to improvise, out-of-pocket costs, burnout and resentment can wreak havoc on our lives, said Senior Concerns President Andrea Gallagher.

"When we have to act in crisis, we focus on our immediate decisions and often fail to see the big picture," Gallagher said. "This can lead caregivers to feel as though we are on an emotional roller coaster. What may look heroic at first may be self-destructive in the long run."

On Feb. 12, Senior Concerns in Thousand Oaks will offer a presentation on the emotional ups and downs of caregiving. It is part of the Solving the Aging Puzzle Program series offered on the second Tuesday of each month through May.

"Having a clearer understanding of the caregiving journey and being able to identify stressors is one of the most vital ways caregivers can help themselves," Gallagher said. "And when caregivers help themselves, it gives them the emotional and physical energy to care for their loved one."

The talk will be given by Felice Urban, a clinical psychologist in Agoura Hills. The presentation, to include group discussion and interaction, will address how emotions affect us physically and how our physical health can affect us emotionally. Additional topics include positive and negative emotions as a caregiver, as well as coping tools and techniques.

"Felice will talk about it being OK to have good days and bad days, and how to make dealing with the harder days easier," said Brenda Birdwell, a senior advocate and member of the program committee at Senior Concerns.

"I see clients on a regular basis who have caregiving concerns; some come in before they are having health issues, specifically to see what the options are should the time come," Birdwell said. "Others are already so stressed out and exhausted that they can barely function."

The good news is there are many resources available, Birdwell said.

"There are many options for home care, and many facilities that provide just the right care, should the time come for that," Birdwell said. "There are also many kinds of caregiver support groups, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's support groups. There is also the Ventura County Long-Term Care Ombudsman's office, which is manned by volunteers who have oversight over the county's facilities."

The duration of caregiving can last from a year to more than 40 years, Gallagher said.

"For a caregiver caring for someone with cognitive impairment, the average amount of caregiving time is 84 hours a week," Gallagher said.

As a result, the physical and emotional health of caregivers often are compromised, Gallagher said.

"In particular, risk increases for depression, reduced immune response, poor physical health and chronic conditions," Gallagher said.

Caregivers also can experience higher levels of stress, anxiety, exhaustion and frustration, and feel guilty about having such responses, Gallagher said.

"They neglect their own health and social needs, make accommodations at work to deal with their caregiving responsibilities and lost time with friends and family," Gallagher said. "Caregivers have higher-than-average death rates, even up to five to seven years after their duties end. In short, this is a huge community that needs help."