With a gaggle of grandchildren, Scott Cooper figured he’d be helping to take care of family members in his retirement. He just didn’t figure the family member he’d be caring for most would be his mother.
Being called on to care for a loved one often comes up with no warning, and people find themselves doing things they never thought they’d do or were even capable of, said Andrea Gallagher, president of Senior Concerns, a nonprofit organization that serves seniors, especially those with significant challenges, as well as caregivers and families.
“What is important to you now might not have been what was important to you two years ago,” she said.
Cooper, 62, who retired six years ago as a vice president at Coca Cola Co., gets himself ready for the day at 7:30 a.m. then turns his attention to his mother, an 89-year-old retired teacher with dementia.
It’s difficult, but he’d have it no other way.
“It’s your parents, and when you take a good hard look at it, you get that feeling of compassion they have had for us all our lives,” he said.
He lays out her clothes and helps her change. He answers her questions—the same ones she’ll ask repeatedly throughout the day. He has her brush her teeth and hair. And he even puts lipstick on her.
“My sister told me about the 24-hour stuff. You put the liner on and then just fill it in,” he said.
Cooper and other caregivers throughout the Conejo Valley and Simi Valley aren’t looking for recognition, but they will be honored for their hard work and get some respite as well at a special event just for them.
Senior Concerns, where Cooper’s mother spends time most weekdays, is teaming up with the cities of Agoura Hills, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks, along with the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce, to present the Conejo Cares Caregiver Recognition Day on Saturday.
The day will not be the kind caregivers are typically invited to attend, according to Gallagher.
“This event is not at all about how to take care of a loved one. It’s about how to take care of you, because your life has changed if you’re a caregiver,” she said.
Caregivers will have the opportunity to share their stories and network at the Jan. 31 program, which will begin with a 20-minute meditation followed by several roundtable discussions, including one led by comedian and caregiver Monica Piper, on issues facing caregivers.
The event will conclude with a luncheon, gift bags and a keynote address from Terry Paulson, a national columnist and author who lives in the Conejo Valley.
Part of the day will be dedicated to honoring businesses in the community that accommodate and recognize caregivers. Some companies allow for flexible hours or provide resources, but employers don’t have to have formal programs in place to support caregivers, Gallagher said.
“Maybe there’s a small company where workers have rallied around a caregiver, brought in dishes for the family or offered to stay with a loved one. It doesn’t have to be huge because there are many ways to support a caregiver,” she said.
The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at Los Robles Greens in Thousand Oaks. Reservations, which are required, can be made by calling (805) 497-0189.
Like Cooper, Joseph Livio will be attending the event.
Livio, 63, cares for his 63-year-old wife, who suffers from depression, he said.
Finding proper care for her has been a challenge; she’s been in and out of a number of hospitals, he said.
Adding to the stress is the paperwork involved in being her healthcare advocate, such as figuring out insurance stipulations and setting up Social Security, he said.
As frustrating as it is to deal with bureaucrats and cycle through doctors who prescribe pills that seem to counteract one another is, it’s even harder knowing what she’s capable of.
“I know she can do more than she’s doing,” Livio said. “She raised our daughter, took care of the house, was in a walking club and was involved in church. The depression sort of killed that.”
While his wife is the one usually attending Senior Concerns, Livio is eager to spend time with the organization on Saturday. He said he’s especially looking forward to the lectures and to meeting people in similar situations.
Providing caregivers with a place to meet and letting them know they’re not alone is one of the goals of the event, said Gallagher.
“This is a silent population that is in desperate need of help,” she said. “They feel like they have to take care of everything themselves, and that contributes to burnout and depression and all the things that can come from that. . . . We want to help caregivers self-identify and let them know they’re not alone.”