By Heidi Fischer, Program Director
AGE of Central Texas Austin Adult Day Health Center
So many of us get caught up in the whirlwind of life that it becomes really challenging to find time to smell the roses. At the AGE of Central Texas Adult Day Health Centers, we believe that the proper amount of fun/life balance is an essential component of wellness.
Respite provides the perfect opportunity for embracing who we really are without other distractions. The benefits of respite care are many, so let’s break this down a bit and look at what respite really feels like:
- The caregiver relaxes and enjoys respite when two things happen: their loved one is in a safe place AND their loved one is in an environment that is stimulating and enjoyable to them.
- Their loved one, in turn, relaxes and enjoys being in a safe, caring, and softly dynamic environment.
AGE of Central Texas celebrates its 30th year in 2016. To mark this landmark anniversary, the community organization will debut a new “Caregiver Lecture Series,” recognize philanthropic leaders with the 22nd annual AGE Awards, and launch the Bert Kruger Smith and Willie Kocurek Legacy Fund in honor of the organization’s co-founders.
Founded 30 years ago as “Austin Groups for the Elderly,” AGE of Central Texas has grown extensively to serve older adults and their caregivers throughout Travis, Williamson, Bastrop, and Hays counties. Census numbers indicate the population of adults 60 and older in Central Texas will grow by 67% by the Year 2020, so the need for services for older adults and family caregivers will climb rapidly during the next few years.
Today, an estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease or similar dementia, and the number of individuals diagnosed each year is growing steadily as the population ages. Today’s treatments only temporarily ease some dementia symptoms, so the need for AGE’s programs and resources – including therapeutic adult day health care in Austin and Round Rock, caregiver education and resources, and early memory loss support – remains at an all-time high and growing.
By Annette Juba, LCSW
Deputy Director of Programs at AGE of Central Texas
As a social worker who has worked with older adults for my entire career, I have heard a lot of life stories. Professionally, these stories, their importance, and their interpretation are wrapped into a paradigm called “narrative theory.” Practically, they are moving or funny or evocative. Always, they are inspirational.
With the holidays upon us, I’d like to tell you the story of one of the first clients who made a lasting impression on me: Claude was an inaugural member of an Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Support Group that I facilitated. This was in the days when “Alzheimer’s” was used sparingly. More often than not in my early career, people with cognitive deficits were diagnosed with “Organic Brain Syndrome.”
When the group formed, I was new to the social work field. Most of my direct experience came from working as an Activity Director in a nursing home. As an Activity Director, it had been my job to create experiences and events that would be fun and make people happy.
By Rob Faubion, Marketing & Outreach Manager at AGE of Central Texas
I just returned from a much-needed vacation – my first real vacation in 11 years – and it made me think about how, as a fellow caregiver, we recharge our batteries. I didn’t realize until I was actually on-the-road just how much I needed my recent break. And now that I’m back in my daily full-swing, I’m really glad I made myself take that time away.
AGE just hosted our 14th annual “Striking a Balance” Caregiver Conference with our partners at the Area Agency on Aging of the Capital Area, and our keynote speaker – noted author and aging expert Dr. Sara Qualls – spoke eloquently on how caregivers need to make time to take of themselves. We all recognize that fact, but we often find ourselves so deep in our caregiving responsibilities that taking a break becomes a fantasy instead of a necessity.
But here is the reality: caregivers are four times more likely to have major physical and mental disruptions than the average adult. We are putting ourselves through so much (emotionally, physically and mentally) as caregivers that if we don’t find the time to take care of ourselves, we are guaranteed to eventually hit a wall. And that is not going to help the loved one in our care.
By Faith Unger
Every work day I eat the very same breakfast—oatmeal, juice, soy milk, and green tea. Is it because this is a favorite meal choice? No, it’s because I’m not a morning person, so fixing the same breakfast every morning saves me from thinking. I do it on auto pilot.
Similarly, an individual with a cognitive disability thrives on using auto pilot. For them, the brain pathways don’t work as well as they formerly did, so thinking requires more effort. Staying in a routine and doing things the same way every day requires less thinking.
Traveling shakes up the old routine, and takes away the familiarity, requiring more thinking effort, which increases the stress and anxiety that further impedes the thinking process. Knowing all this, and experiencing all this, may make a caregiver decide to forgo travel—but not this traveler!
Parents care for children, and then children grow up to become parents and care for their own children. That’s the natural order of things—except when it isn’t.
Sometimes parents cannot care well for themselves, and need others to help. This is when children, purely out of love and concern, often begin to care for a parent. Sometimes the caregiving journey is short-lived, because the need for care is temporary—such as when a parent has surgery or goes through treatment to regain health. Sometimes it’s a long journey because the parent has a chronic illness such as dementia, or the after-effects of a stroke. When a child cares for an ailing parent, how is the parent/child relationship affected, and what can the child do to make the journey easier?
Our CaregiverU Program Director, Faith Unger, has a great mantra: “Caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint.” All too often, caregivers are thrust into the role of taking care of a family member, with little warning and no training.
According to the American Psychological Association, it is estimated that informal caregivers – typically spouses or adult children – provide 80 percent of the long-term care in the case of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Their 2003 study found that caregivers had a 23 percent higher level of stress hormones and a 15 percent lower level of antibody responses than non-caregivers.
Caregiving also takes a psychological toll. According to the National Family Caregivers Association, the roughly one out of four caregivers who care for a family member for at least 36 hours a week – basically making it a full-time job – are more likely to show signs of depression or anxiety. Relative to peers who don’t provide on-going care, spouses can be depressed or anxious six times more often; adult children suffer these problems twice as often.