Caregiver group offers education, up-lifting support

<I>KEVIN HEIMBIGNER photo</I><BR>Don Cantrell explains a thought at a recent caregiver support group meeting. He says the group is to educate, to relieve stress and to help rejuvenate caregivers as they perform their very important, but stressful duties. Meetings are the second Wednesday of the month from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Peninsula Church Center.

SEAVIEW - Don Cantrell of Willapa Counseling Center leads an energetic support group for people who are caregivers the second Wednesday of each month at the Peninsula Church Center from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

"We provide education and support for all of those caregivers who attend," Cantrell says. "Chances are, if you are a caregiver and come to the group with a question, someone else in the group has experienced what you are going through and they have an answer."

Cantrell goes through a caregiver's checklist, with the first item being to make sure the person in need of care has an accurate diagnosis. People can become debilitated from an accident, from a disease, from a stroke, or from a mental problem, such as Alzheimer's.

"Find a physician who is familiar with the problem and someone you are familiar with," Cantrell says. He realizes this is no small task for Peninsula residents. Cantrell suggests that finding a geriatric specialist is often the best answer for health care of the elderly. "About 80 percent of all caregivers are family members," he says.

When a person is in need of care, Cantrell suggests a family meeting so that everyone, even small children, understand what the patient is going through and what may be expected in the future.

Financial and legal issues are best addressed "sooner, rather than when it's too late" according to him. Such items as durable power of attorney, healthcare directives and an up-to-date will are strongly recommended for those difficult financial, health care and end-of-life issues.

Safety for the person is of major concern. Such things as withholding driving privileges, monitoring the stove or use of power tools and guns or keeping the person from becoming lost are major concerns. They can often lead to arguments, Cantrell cautions, but including the person with the caregivers when making decisions is helpful. In the case of Alzheimer's disease, a distraction strategy can be employed instead of confrontation.

"There is a great deal of helpful literature by the Alzheimer's Association and it can be applied to almost any care-giving situation," Cantrell reminds caregivers. An identification bracelet may be another helpful device for the one in need of care.

The group especially focuses on the caregivers, themselves. "Being on call 24 hours a day can be very stressful," Cantrell states. He discusses 10 warning signs, including denial that the patient may get worse. "Often the person in need of care is in a situation that is progressive in nature." Another warning sign is anger. Caregivers ask, 'Why me or why my loved one?" Social withdrawal or anxiety are two other signs of stress for caregivers and they can easily lead to depression.

Caregivers can become exhausted from their situation, they can loose sleep due to worry or from being constantly on edge, and can become irritable and develop a lack concentration. It is not uncommon for the caregiver to also incur health problems related to stress Cantrell explains.

Group members describe their situations as "confining" and "feeling alone when financial decisions are needed to be made." One member says, "Frustration is a good word to describe how I often feel. Sometimes I get tunnel vision and I need to replenish my energy. I'm glad I came to the group today." Often just a good laugh can be therapeutic the members agreed.

Cantrell suggests, "Caregivers need a break. They do not need to feel guilty because they are not superman or superwoman. Something as simple as getting exercise can help. It takes mental discipline to relax and relieve the stress that can come from being a caregiver."

The group originally began with the help of Rollie Lindstrom and Bill Grimberg was also helpful in developing the caregiver support group. "We provide refreshments. Chocolate can be a stress-reliever, too," Cantrell says as the group members enjoy chocolate chip cookies and more than a few smiles as the session comes to an end.

For more information about the caregiver support group, call Don Cantrell at 642-3787. Information about Alzheimer's disease can be obtained by calling 800-848-7097 or going online to (www.alzwa.org).

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