Building Connections for Family Caregivers

May 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

By Courtney Mulroy, Health Education & Caregivers Training  Program Associate

The Community Room at the Brightwood Health Center in Springfield was packed with 35 people sporting bright yellow Commonwealth Care Alliance shirts, filling water bottles and strapping pedometers to their belts. Hands stretched high into the air, and then bent down to reach toward their toes. People of all ages were preparing within the tight walls of the conference room, warming up for the mile-long “Taking Care of You” group walk in honor of caregivers sponsored by Commonwealth Care Alliance’s Department of Health Education & Caregivers Training (HECT).

A young woman helped her grandmother zip her jacket up to her chin and secure her scarf around her neck since Alzheimer’s disease has caused her to forget the process. A husband and wife laughed as they stretched a Commonwealth Care Alliance t-shirt over their mother’s coat. Two young girls, who had arrived alone, came together in the realization that they were both caring for family members who were resting at home.

That’s the thing about family caregivers – you never know who has taken on the task. But everyone in the room had one very important aspect of their lives in common; they were taking care of a loved one.

Commonwealth Care Alliance Caregiver Walk

 

Lourdes Diaz-Marte, supervisor of the Health Education and Caregiver Training (HECT) department in Springfield, took a moment to go around the room and ask each caregiver who it was they were providing care for. The answers varied from parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle or friend.

At the beginning of the walk, people fixed sunglasses onto their noses, buttoned their jackets and asked those walking nearest them, “Who do you take care of?” Throughout the walk, caregivers bonded over the similar responsibilities and difficulties they face in their roles as primary caregivers.

By the end of the walk, there was a new-found connection between caregivers and during lunch, the room was filled with the sound of people exchanging anecdotes and advice.

Leonor Buitrago, a guest speaker from the Alzheimer’s Association, participated in the event and spoke about caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or Dementia and the different approaches that can make communication easier, not only with the person you’re caring for but with outside resources as well.

“I always give caregivers our 800 number because we can connect them with support and information,” Buitrago said, “We want caregivers to feel supported through all the stages of the disease. If they contact us, we can refer them to doctors and specialists and then find recourses for them.” (The Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline phone number is 800-272-3900.)

 Alzheimer’s Association at Commonwealth Care Alliance Walk

Caregivers can be an important source of information, support and guidance to the people they care for and contribute significantly to their quality of life and independence. We encourage caregivers to remember to remain healthy and take care of themselves while caring for a relative or friend.

A caregiver who attended the event named Nancy Roque, works full-time and cares for her 85-year-old mother who suffers from early stages of dementia.

“It’s really important to listen to everyone else’s stories,” Roque said. “Now I know we’re not alone. I’ve learned how important it is to communicate in the right way, not only with my mom but with the rest of the family.”

It was incredible to see the amount of questions caregivers had regarding the illnesses they are responsible for caring for every day.

Buitrago said, “The first step is to educate yourself about the disease and ask for help. Education programs make a huge difference for caregivers.”

Many people left that day saying that they finally felt that they weren’t alone in their community.

Caregivers need a lot of support and we are working to introduce resources to relieve the strains they may feel, while providing support in the form of educational and social resources. If something as simple as a walk and lunch can allow 35 people to feel less alone in their community and more empowered to take on their job as a caregiver, we know these opportunities we create are well worth our efforts and we will be doing more.

 

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