Course helps people navigate demands of caregiving


Published: Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 1, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.

Ana Arreola dreams of bubble baths.

Facts

Savvy Caregiver

What: Training sessions for caregivers of people with Alzheimer's or dementia
When/Where: The six-week course meets once a week for two hours; 2-4 p.m. Mondays, April 1-May 6, Elder Options, 100 SW 75th St.; and 2-4 p.m. Tuesdays, June 4-July 9, The Village, 8000 NW 27th Blvd.
Cost: Free; space is limited
Contact: For more information or to register, send an email to Tom Rinkoski at rinkoskit@agingresources.org

She wakes up before dawn each day, and when 7 a.m. rolls around, she takes her 16-year-old son to P.K. Yonge. Then she runs errands.

When she returns home at around 10:30 a.m., she drifts into her room and lets the sound of music roll over her.

This is her time; her sacred mornings.

The tune changes when her mother wakes up at 11, usually screaming out her name.

“She needs immediate attention,” said Arreola, whose mother has Alzheimer’s disease.

Caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia are often unprepared for the task they’re taking on.

But a new a program in Gainesville aims to help them handle the stress associated with caregiving.

Savvy Caregiver, a six-week program funded by the state Department of Elder Affairs, began in February and quickly filled its 15-seat capacity.

Tom Rinkoski, the course trainer, said he realized the demand for the free course when another 18 people asked to be put on a waiting list.

Training courses have been added for April and June.

“People desperately want to talk,” he said. “(They) come to this because they prefer training, prefer a practical approach, but they still want to talk and learn what to do.”

Rinkoski said he includes topics like physical therapy and communication techniques in the course.

The two-hour sessions can’t cover every topic, Rinkoski said, so students — most of whom are in their 50s and 60s — are assigned homework to help them apply what they are learning to their personal lives.

Last week, he said, he showed his class a video outlining the six stages of dementia.

He said he asked the class to go home and figure out what stage their loved one was in, so caregivers could address how to communicate with them based on what they learned about dementia and how it affects conversation.

One in eight Americans older than 65 has Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, according to the Chicago Health and Aging Project.

The disease runs its course throughout a four- to eight-year period, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Hallmark signs of the disease include memory loss, difficulty completing familiar tasks and confusion with time and place.

In 2008, about 5 million Americans had Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Nearly 7 million are projected to have the disease by 2025.

In Florida, 450,000 people had Alzheimer’s and 590,000 are projected to have the disease by 2025.

Meanwhile, more than 15 million people across the U.S. served as caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s in 2011, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Caregivers provided more than 17 billion hours of unpaid care at an estimated cost of $210 billion, according to association statistics.

Almost 1 million of those caregivers hailed from the Sunshine State, providing 1.1 billion hours of unpaid service at an estimated cost of $13 billion.

Olivia Jenkins has cared for her mother for the last three years.

She washes her mother’s clothes, buys her food and helps her bathe.

“Sometimes it gets overwhelming because she’ll tell me 25 times to do something I’ve already done,” said Jenkins, 68.

Jenkins said she knew that her mother, who is 96, would gradually come to forget more and more. She didn’t anticipate the wave of emotions, though.

Savvy Caregiver has helped her realize the importance in managing her time to make sure she can squeeze in a Zumba class or spend time with her husband, she said.

“If you find yourself in this position, you really need to make sure you have a support group,” she said. “You’re going to need help. You can’t do it by yourself.”

Savvy Caregiver has taught Arreola that her frustration is normal, though sometimes she said she still feels out of place.

Arreola, 50, is a single mother, caring for a son and a parent. She gave up her job as a nutritionist to care for her mother 24/7 when she moved into Arreola’s home in 2008.

“The class took away that resentment I had toward my mother,” Arreola said. “All the things she does that annoy me, she doesn’t know she’s doing them, and I have to remember that.”

Sometimes her mother protests taking showers. Persuading her mother to bathe becomes a 15-minute back-and-forth battle. Arreola said she gets so frustrated sometimes that she wants to tell her mother to stay dirty. But then she feels guilty, and remembers this supersedes her mother’s control, and tries again.

When her mother sleeps or plays solitaire, Arreola said she tries to give herself some time, bearing in mind that she could be needed within minutes.

“I dream of bubble baths,” she said. “I try to take one when I can, try to get images out of my mind. You focus on what you can do, one day at a time.”

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