Celebrating the family caregiver

Wanda takes pride in the care she provides to her husband, Jim, as he goes through his journey with dementia.

Before COVID, Jim attended the Senior Concerns Adult Day Program. Wanda felt his weekday presence there helped slow the progression of the disease as he engaged in conversation, activities, meals and exercise with others in the program.

In addition, the respite she received during the day helped her feel refreshed when Jim came home and needed more of her time in the evenings. Jim had developed sundown syndrome, a term used to describe a range of behaviors—often including agitation, confusion and restlessness—that occurs during the transition from daylight to darkness.

To comfort her husband, Wanda made sure to periodically invite over some of his friends to reminisce about the good old days and help Jim stay connected.

When he was having a good day, she took him on outings, such as to lunch or for a walk in the park.

All that changed with the pandemic.

The day program closed, friends did not visit and outings were too dangerous for them because they are both in their 80s with preexisting conditions.

Wanda’s life was drastically altered. She was now responsible for hands-on care for Jim 24/7. After a few months of lockdown, his dementia worsened; he began having hallucinations and he frequently tried to leave the house.

Wanda was sick with worry that Jim might become lost or get hurt. His body became weak, too. He slept all day and was up all night. Wanda was exhausted, physically and emotionally.

When Jim was in the day program, Wanda used to be able to visit with friends.

“All that is gone now,” she told me. “Talking to my friends on the phone helps, but no one truly understands. And honestly, I don’t want to complain about caring for Jim. He was such a great father and husband. I want to do all I can for him.”

Because Wanda has been socially isolated, she has become anxious.

“I do worry about what will happen when I can no longer care for Jim at home. It keeps me up at night,” she said.

Family caregivers like Wanda are the linchpin of care for most older adults with physical or cognitive impairments in our country. COVID has made their critical but unpaid job even more challenging by adding uncertainty, stress and social isolation.

Wanda’s situation is the exhausting reality for many family caregivers during COVID times.

Wanting to provide support, recognition and appreciation to these heroes, Senior Concerns began a number of years ago to host an annual Caregiver Recognition Day for the community’s family caregivers. This year the event will be virtual and is sponsored by Home Helpers In-Home Caregivers and Adventist Health Simi Valley.

From 1 to 2:30 p.m. Tues., June 15, Senior Concerns will host Caregiver Recognition Day 2021 via Zoom.

The event will focus on selfcare for caregivers and will feature presenters from all six areas of the self-care wheel: physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, personal and professional needs.

Santa Barbara-based chef and cookbook author Pascale Beale will demonstrate satisfying healthy recipes. Marvin G. Belzer, associate director of UCLA Health’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, will present relaxation techniques.

Other presentations will include learning how to live our values and creating healthy boundaries. Of course, there will be comedy, a staple at every Caregiver Recognition Day.

Family caregivers can register for the free event at seniorconcerns.org/caregiver-recognition-day .Online or telephone registration is required.

The first 100 registrants will be eligible to receive a deluxe goody bag filled with gifts from local companies, including a shawl from AMA Waterways. Directions for picking up the goody bag will be emailed upon registration.

If you are a family caregiver for an older adult, give yourself the gift of time to join this special event. It is guaranteed to leave you feeling renewed and appreciated.

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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