When Karen’s mother-in-law, Donna, 81, came to live with her family, life for everyone changed, as could be expected from such a drastic move. But Karen’s family faced the additional complication of Donna having Alzheimer’s disease.
From June 2011 to October 2012, the family did the best they could, but those new to Alzheimer’s are no match for the disease. Something had to give and fast.
Karen enrolled in a Savvy Caregiver training program offered typically by area agencies on aging, sponsored by the Office of Aging and Disability Services and funded by the Administration on Aging Alzheimer’s Disease Supportive Services Program.
“This class is totally worth taking” said Karen. “You learn about yourself and that the person you’re caring for is more than the disease. They still have feelings.”
The Savvy Caregiver training gives family caregivers the essential information they need in order to be better caregivers of someone with Alzheimer’s or related dementia.
“Caregiving is difficult in and of itself, but when dementia is involved, the challenges get kicked up a notch,” said Deb Poulton, director of family caregiver services at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. “The Savvy Caregiver training is imperative for these caregivers because many details and scenarios that they face daily are addressed.”
The Savvy Caregiver training focuses on building three tiers of information: knowledge, attitude, and skills.
• Knowledge: Caregivers learn exactly what dementia is and is not, how it affects their loved one’s personality and behavior, and how to manage a disease that will not “get better” due to its progressive nature. Information is provided on tailoring care-giving strategies based on the person’s stage of the disease.
• Attitude: Caregivers will develop a sense of confidence in their care-giving abilities and will learn how to care for themselves as well. Often caregivers put themselves last on the list which, while understandable, is unwise and can lead to caregiver burnout.
• Skills: During the class, caregivers learn the best ways of interacting and communicating with their loved one, how to best handle challenging behaviors, and how to keep the person engaged in daily tasks, while keeping in mind the person’s current skill level with regard to the progression of the disease.
Karen learned that too many decisions are hard for Donna. The family’s mismatched glasses could throw her off at dinner time as she tried to set the table, because she had difficulty deciding which glass to put at which place setting. Karen fixed the problem by buying matching glassware.
Problem solving is another benefit of the Savvy Caregiver class. Karen and Donna have a better relationship now that Karen has learned to be pro-active not re-active.
“I look for ways to empower her and mentally keep her engaged,” Karen said. “And she had always done the dishes her whole life, so now does them every night here. My kitchen is clean as a whistle.”
Eastern Area Agency on Aging is offering an introductory session to the Savvy Caregiver training on March 26 at EAAA offices. This class will give caregiver the basics of what they can expect from Savvy.
The Savvy Caregiver training is a 12-hour course, broken down into two-hour sessions over six weeks. The next Savvy Caregiver training will be offered at Dirigo Pines, Orono from April 9-May 14. Call Eastern Area Agency on Aging for more information about Savvy Caregiver.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of community education at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, or toll-free (800) 432-7812, or log on EAAA.org.