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Caregivers need love too

Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune
Jim Grant/Tahoe TribuneWife and caregiver Annie Rupert supervises her husband Gordon through his physical therapy session in their Tahoe Keys home.
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Annie Rupert recently let someone else give her 85-year-old husband a shower.

It was a big move for the caregiver, who’s helped Gordon with his Parkinson’s disease for five years.

“It felt good just to let go and let someone else do it,” the 43-year resident of Tahoe said.

There’s no Parkinson’s support group in Tahoe so Rupert took time out Monday for some tender loving care of her own. She joined eight other South Shore caregivers for a class called “Caring for the Caregiver.”

It was the sixth and final session the El Dorado County Family Caregiver Support Program put on at Embassy Suites. The group graduated with a decorative jar filled with “honey-dos” others can do for them.

The workshop, which brought out a cross-section of caregivers, was designed to provide support and share useful information on how to cope with the responsibility of caring for a loved one. Studies show that stress has been found in about 80 percent of caregivers and depression is a condition present in at least half of those caring for a loved one.

“You have to get out and do things for yourself,” class facilitator and caregiver adviser Nancy Madrick said.

Rupert, an avid gardener, enjoys looking out the window every morning to see her flowers grow.

Tami Zwijacz has found the joys of pet therapy.

“I couldn’t do what I do without my three dogs,” she said during a workshop break. “You have to learn how to take care of everybody, me included.”

Zwijacz cares for her mother, who has Alzheimer’s. She also works full time, takes care of two children and helps her husband run his business.

There are plenty of ways for caregivers to deal with stress, Madrick emphasized. They range from aerobic exercise to a visit to the zoo.

Madrick stressed the importance of sticking with a routine schedule, even though her husband doesn’t always want to.

The difficult situation may be exacerbated when a loved one wants to please the person who needs care but ends up upsetting them. Madrick said those situations call for caregivers to balance their love with firm requests.

“You have to set limits,” she said.

Add to that the complexity of an adult child switching roles with the parent, and the dilemma becomes more challenging.

But as people live longer, including the baby boomers, many adult children are placed in these roles with few options.

“There aren’t enough facilities, and most are very expensive,” said Tammy Bragg, who runs the county’s caregiver support program.

Bragg said there’s a “huge need” for senior day care in Tahoe. There’s a four-month waiting list at the one in Placerville.

In Meyers, the Sterling Village Assisted Living Facility recently opened a special unit for residents with dementia.

For in-home service, Elder Options offers respite care, temporarily taking over for the caregiver. Elder Options works closely with Barton Home Health and Hospice, which handles in-home medical needs.

Elder Options Care Manager Tina Callahan urged the class to seek help to alleviate burnout.

“Caregiving is the most rewarding work you can do, but it’s also a high-stress activity,” she said.

After a year of caring for her 95-year mother with dementia, Diana Corneto will continue to learn the ropes.

“This class has been wonderful. Everyone has a different situation, but the basic thread is there — that these people who care for others can be helpful (to each other),” Corneto said.


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