The Beauty of Respite Care for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers

 “Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible.”

― Tia Walker, from The Inspired Caregiver: Finding Joy While Caring for Those You Love

 

The first words that I heard from Carol when I met her were “I want you to know, I take care of my husband.”  You see, Carol has been taking care of her husband, who has Alzheimer’s, for nearly 7 years by herself. The last  2 years have been especially hard on her.  She got help from time to time from her church but nothing more than a few hours here and there to go to an appointment or go grocery shopping.

Carol said that she heard about our respite care services at Regent Court Senior Living where I am the Community Relations Director.  Carol said she wanted to learn more but was doubtful she’d use our services.

We sat and talked a little about how loving and experienced our professional caregivers are and reassured Carol that together we could craft the perfect plan of care for her husband – honoring him in our person-centered philosophy of care.  She nodded and reluctantly said it was more impressive than she thought it would be.  But we could tell it wasn’t creating the relief that she needed.

Then, we asked Carol about Carol.

We asked Carol what she enjoyed doing, where she enjoyed going, and who her closest friends were.  It was clear that she hadn’t thought of these things in a while as she paused thoughtfully – but then she began to open up and started to share, her eyes lighting up.

We heard about how she’s always wanted to go and see the US synchronized figure skating competition with her best friends who she hasn’t spent time with in years.  The apprehension we were greeted with quickly turned to optimism as Carol painted a picture of what she would do if caregiving were not her sole focus.

It was an honor to take care of Carol’s husband – and it was equally amazing to send Carol off with her bags packed to Portland, where the 2018 US synchronized figure skating championships were held at the Rose Quarter!

Family caregivers need care and nurturing in order to be in healthy relationships with their loved one, and connected to a greater community of support.   It was an honor to be there for Carol allowing her to take a break.

Everyone needs a break

For caregivers taking care of a person with dementia, taking a break is more than just advice, it’s a prescription.  The tasks involved in caring for a loved one with an age-related cognitive challenge can be overwhelming at times.  Many caregivers feel they must be ‘strong’ for their loved one and withhold their feelings and desire for “me time” because they feel obligated to put the needs of the person they care for before themselves.  All too often, this leads to caregiver fatigue, burnout, and an unbalanced life for both people involved.

The benefits of taking a break

We understand the importance of taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others. You may believe that you should be able to “do it all”, but seeking help does not make you a failure.  In fact, the opposite is true. When you take care of yourself, you can return refreshed and fulfilled.  Regular separations from caregiving tasks create times where you can pursue your interests and do things that replenish your energy and uplift your spirit.

Perhaps it has been too long since you’ve visited the coast or took a hike through nature.  When is the last time you’ve relaxed with a good friend with no worries about your caregiving duties?  When you are away from caregiving, do you feel obligated to return or are anxious about what might happen without you?

Don’t worry if the answers to those questions are not what you’d like for yourself…you are not alone and you shouldn’t be.

What is Respite?

Respite services are short-term stays, in a home-like setting for a few days or a couple of weeks, in a specialized memory care community.  The person you are caring for experiences the full benefits of an active and social community along with a professional care team trained specifically for the care they’ll need.

By providing families with the option of short-term stays for their loved one, they can refresh and recharge their batteries, with peace and confidence knowing that their loved one is in a safe, engaging and loving environment. It is a gift to your loved one and to yourself to take a healthy break and smile, knowing everything is well taken care of.

We are grateful we can be there for the person living with cognitive challenges, and also for the families. We receive the blessing too!

 


Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 5.15.53 PMAbout the author:  Zeth Owen, Community Relations Director at Regent Court Memory Care in Corvallis Oregon has worked in social services since 2009 and most recently as a case manager for Senior & Disability Services. He enjoys meeting new people and spending time getting to know their stories.  Zeth says that he knew his calling was working in service for elders after seeing the joy that spreads by caring for someone.   Zeth says, “the most rewarding part of the job is the impact we have on our residents and their families when they know they’ve chosen the right place.”

 

Regent Court was recently awarded the Senior Advisor best of 2018 senior communities – reviewed by real families.  As a State certified community with highly trained staff, families can rest assured their loved one will receive quality care and loving support. Contact Zeth Owen at (541) 758-8000 or by email  to learn more.

Look Alzheimer’s in the eye this year.

Over the last few months our Director of Education and Innovation, Jean Garboden, and I have traveled to several of Compass’ senior living communities to conduct training we call Caring is What Makes Us Human: Empathetic communication with those who have dementia. Its evolved into a powerful and engaging series of stories that reflect the more than 10 years we’ve been working to try to understand dementia and finding a better way to care for those who have it. Our employees are required to attend. It’s those that are not required to attend that inspire me.

For several of the trainings, we’ve had elders and family members join us. In one recent session, I was inspired looking out at the elders’ faces that were engaged in the conversation. They were there because they wanted to be. They aren’t afraid of knowing what Alzheimer’s or other dementias can do. And, with their presence, they are facing it head-on. Elders are the ones that may see this daily amongst their peers and wonder, “am I next”? And yet, they were the ones most interested in learning about how they can care, or at least understand, what it means and how to help others.

These elders inspire me because they are engaging in the conversation that most are too afraid to have. They are arming themselves with the knowledge that will help to eliminate fear. They are building understanding that those with dementia are still there and they are whole human beings to be loved, not feared. They are showing us that age, impairments, and change are not to be feared, but understood and accepted. The elders that engage in this conversation are quiet ambassadors to making a better elderhood for the rest of us that will eventually be there.

Like cancer, the movement to find a cure for Alzheimer’s is growing because most of us know, or have known, someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. If you haven’t yet, you will. By learning about dementia and how we can still communicate with those who have it, you participate in the movement to change the language around “locked units”. These are not prisoners to be locked away. They are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, aunts, and uncles. They are in need of being safe and cared for, yes. But, they are not to be feared and avoided. They simply need us to look them in the eye, sing to them, dance with them, and know they still desire to be heard and understood.

As this new year starts please make a resolution that will make real change with one simple act. Resolve to learn more, participate in conversations, and try to understand Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Follow in these elders’ footsteps and learn what you can do to help just one individual. After all, caring is what makes us human.


About the Author:  

Photo on 9-7-17 at 4.53 PM

Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located  in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with, and for, the people that care for others.

Youth and Elders transformed and connected – Music makes Memories!

Isaac, student intern:”Music is an important part of my life,. When I am feeling down, music inspires me and takes me to another place. Giving music to elders is such a small gift of kindness with a powerful impact. Every elder deserves music in their lives!”

Isaac is a sophomore in high school.  He is interested in music and science and is fascinated by the power of music and how it improves his own sense of well-being as he plays guitar or listens to his tunes.    Isaac and I and another student, Bella partnered as student interns for high school credit on a Compass Senior Living project. This was inspired by the documentary Alive Insidewhich features  Olver Sacks, a neuroscientist, studying the impact of music on the limbic brain.

The Administrator and Life Enrichment Coordinator at Sundial Assisted Living in Redding California invited us to partner with them.  They recruited Eli a young volunteer who plays guitar to work with us so that the program could continue after Isaac and Bella left.

Isaac and Bella interviewed elders and worked all evening creating the play lists and downloading them onto mp3 players.  The next day they brought the headphones and the tunes. The smiles and evoked memories continued for days.

Isaac and Billie

Amy, the Business Services Director at Sundial Assisted Living said, “Billie came into my office this morning to tell me about how amazed she is at our brains. She started thinking about all the songs she has stored in her brain and the marvel is that they are all there after all these years. She also shared how much she enjoyed interacting with Isaac. Talking about music made her start thinking about other things… like who the members of the Rat Pack were. She even got into a conversation with another resident this morning about it and he helped her remember the one she was missing. I love it that she is walking around excitedly celebrating the wonder of music and memory and that the interactions of the last couple of days have stirred in her a desire to talk and think more about how music has played a significant role in her life.”


Another Compass Senior Living community in Las Cruces New Mexico, Desert Peaks Assisted Living & Memory Care has begun the process of implementing the Music Makes Memories Program.  Life Enrichment Coordinator, Adriana Garcia prepared this 3-minute video of what they are discovering!  WATCH THIS VIDEO!

The secret key to evoking memory actually emerges in the discussions with the elders AFTER listening to their playlist.

Adriana Garcia, Life Enrichment Coordinator

“Watching the transformations in the elders was breathtaking. Having watched ‘Alive Inside,’ I was already moved by what I had seen; but having it unfold before my eyes, with residents that I spend every day with, sent shock waves of emotion through me. It’s almost as though, just briefly, they were back to their old selves again. They knew who they were, where they had been, who they have known, and it was beautiful. The son of one of our residents who saw the video we made was taken aback. He couldn’t believe that she could remember something that had taken place when he was only 2 years old. His reaction was powerful, and it was incredibly special to be able to share these moments with him. I’m so grateful for this program and very excited to continue on this journey. The next obvious step is involving the families of the residents more and giving them this gift to use at any given time. I would encourage anyone to try this with their loved ones who may be suffering from memory loss. You can’t really appreciate the impact has until you are right there with them.”  Adriana Garcia, Life Enrichment Director


To learn more about the Music Makes Memories program, contact Jean Garboden

About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.