Caregivers Finding Someone to Lean On
Caregivers Finding Someone to Lean
(c) USA TODAY
February 17, 2004
(c) USA TODAY - February 17, 2004
Larry Atencio knew his father had
had diabetes for years. But he was still shocked by
what he saw a year and a half ago, when he went home
Everything was upside down,
says Atencio, 44. His dad couldnt get out of
bed to go to the bathroom; his mother couldnt
She was on the verge of a nervous breakdown,
Atencio says. I had a pretty good job
in Denver, but . . . my parents needed me, so I just
followed my heart.
That meant moving 70 miles to Colorado Springs and
becoming a full-time caregiver.
Atencios heart may have told him what he should
do, but it certainly didnt tell him how to do
Thats the case for most people who end up caring
for an aging parent, spouse, or other relative. They
have no training in caregiving and no real idea what
to do or what to expect.
But there is help. A growing number of classes, support
groups, therapy and respite care options are becoming
available for the USAs growing army of overextended
Often, however, taking care of themselves is their
It shouldnt be, says Mary Mittelman of the Silberstein
Institute for Aging and Dementia at the New York University
School of Medicine. She began a study in 1987 of husbands
and wives who care for an Alzheimers-impaired
Caregivers who received counseling and support were
able to cope better. They also could keep their Alzheimers-impaired
spouses out of nursing homes a median of 329 days
longer than those not getting such services, she found.
The study is continuing.
For Atencio, help first came from a telephone hotline
called the Eldercare Locator. It is paid for by the
U.S. Administration on Aging, part of the Department
of Health and Human Services. The phone line supplies
people with information on local resources.
Through the hotline, Atencio found a local agency
and social worker who sat me down and
put a folder together with all the tools I needed.
She was like an angel. It made my job so much easier.
He got his dads medication under control and
also organized his fathers papers, including
a living will.
Atencio regularly attends caregiver-support groups
at the local senior center. They encourage
us to stay healthy and ask family and friends to share
the care, he says.
Betty York of Asheville, N.C., also sought support
to help her deal with being caregiver for her mother,
88, who moved in with York and her husband after a
stroke and memory loss.
There is no life, she says.
Its a full-time job.
She took a class called Powerful Tools for Caregivers,
a six-session program that focuses on how caregivers
can care for themselves. The curriculum was developed
by Legacy Caregiver Services in Portland, Ore., and
is now administered through Mather LifeWays
Institute on Aging in Evanston, Ill.
More than 10,000 caregivers throughout the country
have now taken the course, which was first offered
three years ago and continues to grow in popularity.
Too often the caregivers health
gave out before the person receiving care,
says Vicki Schmall, who has worked with family caregivers
for 30 years and co-wrote the book used in the Powerful
The class, which emphasizes self-care techniques and
communications skills, is no panacea. But for York
and others, it can make a difference -- especially
in the most stressful moments.
Sometimes I want to tear out all my hair
and just run and never stop. Sometimes I want to scream,
and other times I say, Well, this is what I
need to do. And I just calm myself down and
get through it, York says. I
dont get as upset as I used to all the time.
I know how to handle it.
Most important, the class has made her feel less isolated.
It helps to know that other people feel
like I do -- they feel tied down, she
The bond between the way we all feel is
amazing because we have somebody to talk to. You understand?
We have somebody to talk to.
150 Muir Road (127A)
Martinez, CA 94553-4612
Telephone: (925) 372-2485
Lawrence J. Ellison Ambulatory Care Center
4860 Y Street, Suite 3900
Sacramento, CA 95817
Telephone: (916) 734-5496