This article originally appeared in the May 2021 edition of Senior Scope. Article by Seth Thomas.
Caregiving for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can require a lot of time, energy and patience. The Savvy Caregiver Program, a free course that Coastline will be offering for the first time online this May, will teach caregivers what they can expect and offer practical advice.
Stephanie Gibson, a social worker at Coastline who co-facilitates the course, said the Savvy Caregiver program is a good starting point for those who are caring for a loved one who has been newly diagnosed. She said it helps caregivers develop strategies early in their loved one’s progressive disease, and those strategies can help prevent problems further down the road.
“When something comes up that you don’t know how to handle, it can become a crisis,” said Gibson. “We give people the education they need before a crisis happens.”
While any caregiving role will come with its own set of challenges, caregiving for a person experiencing memory loss can be especially hard on caregivers because they may not have a firm understanding of the disease and how it’s affecting their loved one’s behavior.
Dementia is a general term describing a group of symptoms that includes problems with memory, language and thinking skills. While there are many causes for dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause. Alzheimer’s disease is progressive, meaning symptoms are irreversible and will become more pronounced over time, and it will hinder a person’s ability to carry out daily tasks.
As the disease progresses, a person will become less in control of their actions and behavior. However, these behaviors are typically a response to a need that they may not be able to clearly communicate to their caregiver.
Gibson said that during the pandemic, caregivers were forced into a challenging predicament. Caregivers were uncertain if allowing health care workers into their homes would be safe as COVID-19 cases surged, meaning families were responsible for nearly all of the caregiving themselves.
Even in typical year, caregiving can be a stressful situation. Prior to the pandemic, a former Savvy Caregiver Program participant spoke with Senior Scope about the challenges of caring for her mother and mother-in-law. Gayle Whittle said she moved back to the South Coast several years ago to care for her family.
At the time, she said her mother had some dementia, which presented itself as confusion, and her mother would ask questions repeatedly. Whittle said the program helped her realize that her mother’s new behaviors were not intentional.
“Before taking this workshop, it was hard to be patient,” said Whittle. “The workshop taught me that you’re not going to be able to stop the repetitive questions. But getting annoyed and saying ‘I just told you that’ isn’t helping anybody. It may stress them out, and it certainly isn’t helping the caregiver.”
While completing the course won’t make all the stresses of caregiving melt away, Gibson said, the program can help caregivers develop a sense of control over the situation and better manage daily life.
Whittle gave an example of how, when she would visit her mother, she would often check in while cleaning, moving from one task to another. What she didn’t realize was that her moving around the house while asking questions only added to her mother’s confusion. Sitting down and engaging in a face-to-face conversation before cleaning turned out to be a better approach.
Gibson said sometimes caregivers don’t realize they’re contributing to their loved ones behaviors.
“You could be giving them too much for the level that they’re at,” said Gibson. “It’s the disease, not the loved one.”
- The Savvy Caregiver will be held every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon, starting on May 18 and running to June 22. This program is offered for free by Coastline and will be held online. Assistance with technology may be available.
- To register, call Stephanie Gibson at 774-510-0193 or register online at healthyliving4me.org.
- The Savvy Caregiver workshop is made possible by a grant from the Administration for Community Living and the Executive Office of Elder Affairs. This funding allows us to offer this program to you at no cost.