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Taking care of caregivers

Posted: July 12, 2009 10:14 p.m.
Updated: July 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Alzheimer’s expert and UCLA researcher Dr. Joshua Grill spoke with attendees at Caregiver Resource Day. The free Senior Center event focused on providing caregivers with support and helpful information. Alzheimer’s expert and UCLA researcher Dr. Joshua Grill spoke with attendees at Caregiver Resource Day. The free Senior Center event focused on providing caregivers with support and helpful information.
Alzheimer’s expert and UCLA researcher Dr. Joshua Grill spoke with attendees at Caregiver Resource Day. The free Senior Center event focused on providing caregivers with support and helpful information.
Caregiving is exceedingly stressful and time consuming – and often leaves little energy for taking care of oneself.

The majority of caregivers are senior spouses of limited income and busy adult children with work and families to tend to.

Given those scenarios, it’s easy to see why so many caregivers wear out (and even die) before the loved ones they provide care for do.

Such compelling situations are behind why the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center annually presents Caregiver Resource Day — a free community event aimed at lightening the load for caregivers through information, support, and tools for better self-care.

Approximately 175 people attended the June 20 seminar, which was funded in part through the Family Care Services of the Los Angeles County’s Area Agency on Aging.

With its title sponsor, Comfort Keepers In-Home Care, the event included enlightening speeches, a Pacifica Senior Living Santa Clarita-sponsored breakfast, care-giving related vendors, health screenings, and raffle prizes.

Hosted by the SCVSC’s Supportive Services Department, Caregiver Resource Day’s featured keynote speakers Joshua Grill, Ph.D., director of UCLA’s Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research; James Makous, Ph.D., director of the Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) Program for Parkinson’s at Boston Scientific Neuromodulation (BSN) in Valencia; and Judith Harris, M.A., M.F.T., psychotherapist, humorist, and facilitator of several SCVSC support groups, who also served as event moderator.

Alzheimer’s disease

An ultimately fatal, brain-destroying disease, Alzheimer’s affects 5.3 million Americans and accounts for 10 million unpaid family caregivers.

The No. 1 risk fact for developing AD is age.

“Medicine is helping people live longer lives, putting more people at risk to get Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Grill, Associate Director of UCLA’s Deane F. Johnson Center for Neurotherapeutics.

“The number of people with AD is expected to triple in the coming decades, making it a national and international health care crisis.”

Research has made major advancements in recent decades to better understand this disease and what happens in the brains of patients afflicted, Grill noted.

“Two research goals currently predominate: moving diagnosis earlier, even before the beginning of symptoms, and developing new treatments that will slow the underlying disease process,” Grill stated.

“In combination, these two outcomes will let us essentially prevent the disease by identifying early and starting therapy to slow the pathological processes in the brain.”

Parkinson’s disease

Also a progressive brain disorder, Parkinson’s affects about 1.5 million Americans, impairing nerve cells, muscle function and movement. Symptoms include shaking (tremor), slowness in moving, stiffness, and balance difficulties. About 60,000 new cases are diagnosed annually. 

Dr. Makous, who evaluates new technology within Boston Scientific’s Emerging Indications team, spoke about Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). The procedure is successful in treating numerous movement disorders, including Parkinson’s and essential tremor. (The latter is a neurological disorder that causes uncontrollable shaking most frequently in hands or arms, but also in the head, voice, legs or trunk.) 

With DBS, a small, surgically implanted, battery-operated medical device (similar to a pacemaker) delivers electrical stimulation to targeted areas in the brain.

This controls movement and blocks abnormal nerve signals produced by Parkinson’s and essential tremor. Makous presented a video in which renowned bluegrass musician Eddie Adcock underwent DBS to treat his disabling tremor — while strumming his banjo. As the procedure “fine-tuned” Adcock’s brain, tremors subsided and precise banjo playing resumed.

“We’ve had some amazing successes (with DBS),” said Registered Nurse Roberta Greenberg, Providence Saint Joseph clinical neurology manager. “The results are life-changing — patients can cut their medications, they suffer far fewer tremors and they regain motor skills. What’s really exciting about DBS is the potential for use in a range of disorders. Research is ongoing for applications in treating depression and even Alzheimer’s disease.”

Help for the caregiver

Finding humor and meaning in care-giving was the topic of Judith Harris’ talk titled, “We’re All Here Because We’re Not All There.”

Peppered with famous quotes and cartoons, Harris’s speech emphasized the importance of releasing guilt and self-blame, accepting the past, thinking optimistically, and spending time with people who make you happy.

Harris, a cancer survivor and SCVSC’s caregiver support group leader, included a gem from Rabbi Harold Kushner.

“Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you’re a good person is like expecting a bull not to attack because you’re a vegetarian,” Harris said.

Rose Di Benedetto, whose 83-year-old father Jose Hernandez has dementia and lives with her in Saugus, praised the event.

“It was very helpful,” she said. “I especially liked learning about resources for caregivers to come into the home. That’s good to know for when I have to go somewhere because I can’t always rely on my sons. They love their grandpa but sometimes they have things to do.”

Di Benedetto, herself a breast cancer survivor, said she appreciated Harris’ levity.

“I joke about everything. I have to,” she said.

Despite his normally sweet disposition, Hernandez can get agitated, which is common for people with dementia, the daughter said.  
“My dad can get violent and raise his voice but that’s not him, it’s his illness,” she stated.

A stroke survivor with congestive heart failure, Hernandez attends the Senior Center’s Adult Day Care. The licensed program provides nurturing and social stimulation for people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, post-stroke or other conditions requiring constant supervision.

“He really likes it there,” Di Benedetto said. “It’s safe and they take good care of him.”

She also lauded day care for the respite it allows from caregiving.

“It gives me a break, and as much as I love my dad, that means a lot to me,” the daughter said.

For further information contact the SCVSC’s Supportive Services Department at (661) 255-1588.


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