New workshop will aid caretakers battling burnout
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012 06:00 am
The hardest parts of caring for her mother were the decisions Judy Hierlihy was forced to make.
As her mother’s physical and mental health slowly deteriorated, Hierlihy said she was not only confronted with taking responsibility for her mother’s life but also with the emotional journey that lay ahead of her.
“She was short with you and that was hard for me to handle,” she said.
“But it was her frustration because she was always an independent woman and it was hard for her.”
Her mother was diagnosed with a heart condition at 83. She almost lived to 95 before the illness took her. Any judgments concerning her health, treatments and living conditions were left with her daughter. Eventually, Hierlihy said, she became her mother’s caretaker.
With a background in nursing and homecare, she knew how to navigate the health-care system. But there were others she recognized in the community who felt alone and suffered from a lack of emotional support.
“A lot of people wouldn’t recognize the burnout,” she said.
“It concerns anybody who cares for a child and an adult and a relative. Some people may not see themselves as caregivers but they do experience the journey.”
Hierlihy said she read about a course in Edmonton that provides emotional support to caregivers through the Alberta Caregivers Association. Noting the need for a similar program in St. Albert, she organized the city’s first COMPASS for the Caregiver workshop.
The nine-week workshop encourages caregivers to recognize that in order to care for others, they must first take care of themselves. Each of the course’s nine modules (one two-hour session each week) stresses different needs – knowing one’s emotional capacity, taking time off, planning the journey ahead and navigating the health-care system.
It also addresses feelings of guilt, resentment and depression.
“With the older population, they are very reluctant and uncomfortable with people coming into their homes to care for them,” Hierlihy said.
“They really put the barriers up and they are frustrated, which is hard on those who are caring for them.”
Tara Burnett is the outreach coordinator for The St. Albert 50 + Club. Hierlihy first contacted her about organizing the meeting and, knowing the community, Burnett thought it was a good idea.
“We have so many family members, a lot of whom are caregivers out in the community, who take care of their partners or children,” she said.
“It can be a very frustrating and lonely job.”
Statistics Canada says 2.7 million Canadians over 45 years old provide unpaid care for family members. A quarter of these caregivers are seniors, looking after a growing number of relatives suffering from dementia.
Most Canadians can expect to live at least twenty years in health beyond the age of 65. But the final years are often marked by some degree of disability – chronic diseases such as arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, vision loss or diabetes.
Health Canada reports that one in five seniors aged 65 to 74 living at home suffers from a disability. The number rises to 28 per cent of those 75 to 85 years old, and 45 per cent of those over 85 years old.
Debbie Cameron-Laninga, program coordinator for the Alberta Caregivers Association, said the workshop does not train caregivers in how to do their work. It guides them emotionally and gives them an opportunity to communicate with others in similar situations.
Most of all, it shows that they are not alone.
“Normally caregivers want to do a good job, they love it and they do it for free,” she said.
“But they are usually at higher risk of getting sick and ending up with a heart condition and they also run a risk of ending up in the hospital with a depression.”
An Edmonton caregiver will lead participants through the first St. Albert-based workshop. Afterwards, Hierlihy will consider training with the Alberta Caregivers Association so that she can become a facilitator for later workshops.
The cost for participants is $29, which includes a manual. The workshop will take place from Oct. 16 to Dec. 4 at the St. Albert 50+ Club at 7 Taché St.
For more information on the COMPASS for the Caregiver workshop, contact Tara Burnett at 780-459-0433, ext. 6.