By Patti Haddick – 

On a plane ride flight attendants instruct passengers to place the oxygen mask on themselves first and then help others with theirs.  The same is true for anyone caring for a loved one.  Take care of yourself first in order to have more to give your loved one.

As a Dementia Support Group facilitator, after listening to hundreds of families and their stories of caregiving and being the caregiver for my mother, I know just how true and necessary this advice is.  One must care for himself/herself in order to be the best caregiver for a family member or close friend…to have the patience and where-with-all to keep on caregiving.

Caregivers must care for themselves by continuing to do things that bring them joy and peace.  This step away from caregiving will help keep them healthy, happy and hopefully give them a more positive outlook on caregiving.  For some a positive attitude/outlook comes naturally, but this can be learned and is valuable when someone is caring for a person with dementia.

In November St. John’s Community Care started teaching, “The Savvy Caregiver Program”, to assist Caregivers in how to deal with the daily challenges of caring for a loved one with dementia. This program was developed by the University of Minnesota with the support of the Alzheimer’s Association.  In this Program family Caregivers are taught to learn, develop, and modify strategies that they can use to accomplish their caregiving goals: to keep their loved one contentedly involved in daily life; to reduce their own (the Caregiver’s) stress; and to strengthen and enlist their family and other outside help as caregiving resources.

Having been personally involved in co-teaching the first 6-week session of “The Savvy Caregiver” I can say that I am proud of all the participants/students.  It was a privilege to hear them tell of their personal journeys in caring for their loved ones.  They were a very dedicated group, both in the care they give their loved ones and in learning new or alternate ways to reducing stress for their loved ones and for themselves.  Participants mentioned that the camaraderie and sharing were invaluable to them.  Nancy Berry, Stacey Rhodes and I as teachers saw a difference in attitude and outlook as each participant navigated his/her way through this unique learning experience.

If you or someone you know is caring for a loved one who has dementia, think about attending our next series of Savvy Caregiver classes.  It can make a difference in your loved one’s life and bring more calm and peace to you, the caregiver.  For information on upcoming classes please call St. John’s Community Care at 344-5008.