Caregivers at Leeza’s Care Connection Olympia Medical Center were treated to an extra special Caregiver Spa Day on Monday, May 13th.
Special thanks to the Beauty Bus Foundation for pampering our caregivers!
On Thursday, May 9, guests of Leeza’s Care Connection in Los Angeles had a wonderful Mother’s Day Tea hosted by Silverado Senior Living-Beverly Place. We were fortunate to have Lisa R. Machenberg lead a beautiful guided imagery visualization inspired and developed for caregivers. Right click on the link below and select “Save Link As” or “Save Target As” to download this audio file to your computer. Listen and Enjoy!
In addition, Lisa has been facilitating workshops for caregivers at LCC to reduce stress, increase joyful moments throughout the day, and learn the Art of Extreme Self Care while Caring for Another.
Lisa Machenberg is a Staff Hypnotherapist and Instructor at HMI College of Hypnotherapy for over 20 years and can be reached at 310-259-2524.
Caregivers offered comfort, support
By Lidia Dinkova
Special to The Miami Herald
“He would lose things, like his watch,” said Sellis, 75. “He did things he would not normally do. That’s how it began.”
Rafferty, 76, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer’s Association, a nonprofit that works to increase care, support and research.
The biggest risk factor of Alzheimer’s is age. After 60, the risk increases every five years, said Dr. Ranjan Duara, medical director of the Mount Sinai Wien Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders.
Sellis became a full-time caregiver to Rafferty. There are currently 44.4 million adult American caregivers who care for a family member or friend, according to a study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.
“Alzheimer’s has multiple victims — the patient and the caregiver, and sometimes it is more than one caregiver,” Duara said.
And just as there is help for patients with Alzheimer’s, there is help for the caregivers.
A University of Miami study showed that intervention from professionals reduces the burden on caregivers, increases their social support and prompts positive feelings about being a caregiver, said Dr. Sara Czaja, scientific director at the Center on Aging at UM’s Miller School of Medicine and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
The five-month study also proved the feasibility of using technology in helping caregivers. In the study, 120 South Florida caregivers received videophones through which they joined real-time support groups as well as clinical interventions with UM doctors. The live monthly sessions were accompanied by pre-recorded educational videos, information tips and a resource guide, said Czaja.
“The videophones allow people to participate in these activities in their own home,” Czaja said. “They feel guilty about leaving their loved one so using technology as a forum for delivery offers flexibility.”
Help to caregivers is also offered in person. While most local hospitals offer caregivers’ support groups, Leeza’s Place at Memorial Hospital Pembroke offers Japanese spiritual relaxation classes to caregivers.
Leeza’s Place opened in 2003. It is the signature program of The Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation started by talk-show host Leeza Gibbons in memory of her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
It offers help to caregivers who are taking care of a loved one with any memory disorders or progressive and chronic conditions. Leeza’s Place centers are also in California and Illinois.
“It really doesn’t matter what the disease is. All caregivers are fatigued, time starved and in need of resources,” said Bonnie Bonomo, program and outreach director at Leeza’s Place at Memorial Hospital Pembroke.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders include short-term memory loss, anxiety, irritation and paranoia, said Duara.
“All of these can cause a tremendous amount of stress to the caregiver,” he said. “Sometimes patients can ask the same question over and over. They forget the answer that was given. And that can drive a caregiver crazy. Sometimes they may shout at the patient and that may frustrate the patient even more. It sort of becomes a cycle.”
That is why helping caregivers starts with educating them about the disorder of their loved one. The more caregivers understand the disease afflicting their loved one, the better they are able to take care of them, Bonomo said.
Such was the case with Sellis, who found help at Leeza’s Place at Memorial Hospital Pembroke.
“Sometimes it gets on your nerves when he [Rafferty] is constantly asking and asking,” she said. “But you learn how to handle it. If he asks you five times, you just answer.”
Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition and while there are medications that target memory loss and behavioral changes, they do not stop the disease’s progression.
“It’s really difficult to lose someone you love a little bit at a time,” Bonomo said.
On a recent visit to Leeza’s Place, about 13 caregivers and several patients sat in a circle with their eyes closed and palms rested on their laps. Reiki Circle is a Japanese alternative medicine where practitioners transfer energy to other participants in the class through palm healing. While some at the class sunk into a deep meditation, others got up and hovered their palms on the rest of the participants in circular and linear motions.
“It centered me,” said 85-year-old Beatrice Pari, who is a caregiver to her 86-year-old husband, Paul Pari, diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndrome, a condition that causes shortness of breath and weakness because patients’ blood cells made in the bone marrow do not become healthy red or white blood cells or healthy platelets.
Pari said her husband used to help with everything, from grocery shopping to housekeeping. But now he walks with a cane and the chores have fallen on her.
“I am not a depressed person. But I was getting depressed because I was so busy,” said Pari, who has been coming to Reiki Circle for the past seven years. “I feel so much better than when I first walked in the door.”
While Alzheimer’s patients are diagnosed according to three categories — mild, moderate and severe — people with the condition are not affected by memory loss or anxiety all the time, Bonomo said.
“You can walk in the kitchen and he might be normal or he might be diseased,” she said. “That unpredictability is so challenging for caregivers because it makes their life a roller coaster. Imagine 24/7 showing up for duty, and you just don’t know what you are going to get when you walk in the door.”
Sellis, caregiver to her partner Rafferty, who has mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, said the best lesson she has learned at Leeza’s Place is to not feel guilty if she gets upset. “I am with Thom 24/7. Leeza’s Place helped me understand that it’s OK for me to get upset. Everybody goes through that. So they emphasize not to feel guilty,” she said.
As Rafferty’s condition progressed in the past five years — he now cannot hold a conversation but still laughs and sometimes plays the clarinet — Sellis has found support from Leeza’s Place. “I have met people who have been in these same situations and down the same road I am now on,” she said. “We are getting comfort from one another.”
I am a caregiver. And I am a man.
My wife Molly, who has Alzheimer’s, is in a memory care facility now. I still see her every day. Before she was placed three months ago, I was a full-time caregiver for five years.
I have come to realize that caregiving requires some manly virtues: strength, courage, loyalty. It also, of course, requires some traditionally feminine virtues: sensitivity, compassion, self-sacrifice.
I’ve learned to employ all of these virtues and more over the years.
I have, for example, learned a lot about courage. Courage is not about not being afraid. It is about feeling the fear and acting anyway. When Molly was behaving in a psychotic way, it meant being with her instead of running away. I learned that I had a much greater capacity for courage than I ever thought possible.
Indeed, Molly’s Alzheimer’s has challenged me to use all of my experience, all of my skills, all of my tools. Many of which I never knew I had. Some of which I had to develop as we went along.
I am more patient now. I’ve had to learn to be. There is no point in getting frustrated when things take ‘too long,’ or when Molly can’t understand what I am asking her to do.
My communication skills are much more advanced now. I truly understand how important body language is. How important touch is. How important active listening is.
I also have come to recognize the importance of emotion in communication. When I am calm and peaceful, the channels are open not blocked. When I am agitated, we have trouble connecting. It is not always obvious, and it takes some practice but new modes of communication can be learned. Especially, over time, and I have had five years to observe and learn what works and what doesn’t.
Molly is different now: there are things (like reading and writing) that she can’t do anymore. There are other signs of the late stages of the disease, like incontinence. But I still know her at the most fundamental level. She is still Molly. She is still the woman I married twenty-eight years ago.
I now carry her memories, remember her stories. It makes me feel very sad and very privileged at the same time. I know her. I remember what she cannot. I appreciate the life we have led, the things we did together. I recall them when I am with her. I share them with her when she cannot remember herself. This sharing brings us moments of happiness and joy. These are precious.
Have I given up myself to care for Molly? No, not really. It is true that living with Alzheimer’s has made my life different. I have changed; I have developed; I have grown.
And I am more virtuous: I am more manly not less. I am stronger, more courageous, more loyal than ever before. I have been challenged to the depth of my being, and I have risen to the challenge. I was overwhelmed, but I more than survived. I am a better man.
TV/Radio Personality Leeza Gibbons and Leeza’s Place Memorial Hospital Program Director Bonnie Bonomo discuss family caregiving and Leeza’s Place support programs on “South Florida Spotlight”, 101.5 LITE FM’s long-running signature community affairs program airing in two half-hour segments Sunday mornings at 5 am EST, hosted by Ron St. John and Ellen Jaffe.
Listen to the entire 3 part interview below: