Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=162696
Story Retrieval Date: 5/22/2013 3:14:47 PM CST
Jordan K. Turgeon/MEDILL
- April 20 through May 25 – six consecutive Tuesdays
- $35 fee (includes sessions, parking, food and caregiver's handbook)
-For more information, contact Jessica Blake (email@example.com) or Renee Elms (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It’s a cliché everyone is familiar with: Look out for No. 1. But when it comes to caring for an ill family member or loved one, putting yourself first doesn’t always come so easily.
For Renee Elms, it took a six-week course called Powerful Tools for Caregivers for her to realize she couldn’t “do it all” when it came to caring for her parents. Elms’ mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and her father was diagnosed with dementia, within just six years of each other.
“I used to be in the mindset, before I took this course, of ‘I have to do everything for them,’” said Elms, who now runs her own care-giving consultation company in Chicago. “They took care of me, so now I have to take care of them. [Caregivers] begin to break down because they start putting 200 percent into caring for that person instead of caring for themselves first.”
The program was around for several years before Elms signed up for the course two years ago. Legacy Health System, a hospital and clinic system based in Portland, Ore., started the program in 2000 to give individuals caring for loved ones with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s the help and support necessary to be the best caregiver possible while also taking care of their own needs. According to Legacy Health System, the Powerful Tools for Caregivers program has since spread widely -- today, it can be found in 33 states across the U.S. and also in a number of other countries.
“It was really an interesting experience, because I went in thinking that I’d take it and they’d tell me ‘Relax, just be good to yourself,’” Elms said. “But it was so much more layered and so much more informative than I expected.”
The National Alliance for Caregiving estimated in a 2009 report at least 43.5 million people nationwide provide unpaid care to a friend or family member who is 50 years of age or older. Research suggests these individuals can benefit from programs aimed at caregiver support. In 2008, researchers from New York University found caregivers who attended a six-session care giving course – covering topics similar to Powerful Tools for Caregivers – had fewer depressive symptoms than those in the control group who did not attend the course.
“This is an evidence-based program. There is a lot of research right now on caregiver stress and depression,” said Jessica Blake, an executive with The Alzheimer’s Association Greater Illinois chapter. “Caregivers are looking for resources and they’re realizing they can’t do it alone.”
Elms’ positive experience as a program participant prompted her to become certified with the program and help facilitate one of this year’s series, alongside Blake, through the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Illinois chapter.
“I’m so fortunate I found Renee, because I really think it’s going to add a lot of depth to the series,” Blake said. “I have personal experience, but I’m a professional in the field. She’s in the trenches.”
The program runs for six consecutive Tuesdays from April 20 through May 25. In between the weekly sessions, caregivers call and e-mail each other to keep in touch and show their support.
“You really do bond in that six-week period with people who understand where you are and what’s going on with you,” Elms said. “It becomes a support group.”
The group of participants is kept small to allow for optimal participation and interaction, but Blake said the program still has room for a few more participants. For more information, contact Jessica Blake at (847) 324 - 0367.
Elms’ story is only one example of how the program has helped people adapt to their role as caregiver.
“This course really has found that it’s offsetting that caregiver stress,” Blake said. “The better you are to yourself, the better you are to your loved one.”