Comfort for caregivers

By Holly Kestenis Staff Writer

St. Petersburg – For the ninth consecutive year, caregivers all around Pinellas County were invited to take part in a conference geared toward revitalizing their minds, bodies and souls. The Enoch Davis Center, located at 1111 18th Ave. S., played host to more than 160 dedicated family members who’ve made the commitment to care for their loved ones in their later years.

“In doing this, there’s a drainage that goes with that,” said Reverend Dr. Ellis Hodge of Word of Life Fellowship. Caring day in and day out for a loved one that could be physically or mentally impaired, takes its toll and caregivers tend to find themselves neglecting their own wellbeing, leaving themselves mentally, physically and spiritually depleted. “It’s a thankless thing that you go through.”

With our fast moving society, tolerance of the elderly is quickly diminishing. But as you age, you never know where you’re going to end up, what disease will afflict you or what position you will find yourself in down the road.

“You can’t dictate the later terms in life that life’s going to deal you,” explained Hodge, who cautions you could always end up in a position where you are in need of someone caring for you.

But the same good intentions that drive family members to be the main caregiver in their loved one’s time of need, soon find that the longevity of it takes from their own lives and eventually find that they are alienated from friends and other family members.

“It’s about being able to fight the next day,” said Ronnell Montgomery, a past caregiver herself and emcee of the event. Montgomery knows first-hand the drainage Hodge referred to and encouraged the large group of caregivers to network with others and listen to the speakers for clues and tips on how to make the daunting task before them easier to deal with.

“By listening to the speakers, you kind of get empowered and refreshed because you’re looking at it with different eyes,” she said.

This year’s conference was full of new and old faces.

Kim Linder, CSA & Founder of Senior Holistic Living, LLC was the panel moderator. For the last 15 years she has helped others create balance in their lives as they’ve faced the challenges and struggles that so often complicate their roles as caregivers. She takes pride in empowering caregivers to make more conscious decisions so they can take care of themselves while caring for loved ones, which is what the conference was all about.

“We want this all to be relatable,” said Linder. The goal of each conference is to rejuvenate and educate so that when caregivers walk out at the end of the day they have information on how to create balance in their life and understand the cost of caregiving. And the mantra, “I make choices for my true self” is the message that all were trying to get across.

Experts were brought in to remark on the physical and emotional components of the cost of caregiving. Ruby Hope, director of Critical Care at Largo Medical Center, answered questions on the physical strains, while Laverne Feaster Johnson, a now retired mental health specialist with some 38 years of experience spoke on the emotional side of caring for a loved one.

Hope tackled tough questions caregivers deal with on a daily basis such as, should I feel selfish when thinking of my own health over the person I am caring for, or where do I find the time to take care of my physical needs?

Hope reassured those present that it is fine to take care of yourself and encouraged everyone to find at least 30 minutes a day to spend on themselves. “If you don’t take care of yourself, whose going to take care of the person you are responsible for,” Hope asked citing that physical wellbeing is the key to a successful outcome when caring for others.

She further explained that caregivers need to be alert with few distractions, patient and eat healthy in order to manage properly the physical demands of the job. A creative approach to finding time to unwind such as going to the park or sitting on a porch with a cup of tea, is sometimes enough to recharge the batteries.

“Doing things to stimulate your mind, it’s good for you,” said Hope.

Johnson embarked on opening the communication lines when it comes to the emotional toll that caregivers deal with when they’ve made a commitment to care for a spouse, parent or child.

“Initially we are hopeful,” she said explaining that families tend to feel they can give better care at home than placing a loved one in a facility of strangers. However, as time goes on and as the caregiving continues for an extended period of time, Johnson said caregivers find themselves becoming emotionally frustrated and with feelings of guilt and helplessness. Resentment and anger soon follow plaguing a good intention with negativity.

“It’s better to acknowledge those feelings and get them out,” said Johnson. By suppressing these emotions, physical disorders can arise. “That’s when we get headaches, GI problems, aches and pains.”

As the conference continued other speakers answered questions on how to manage the intricacies of caregiving. Kimberlee Bridges, a Caregiver Support Coordinator for Bay Pines Health Care System and Attorney John Herbst with Gulf Coast Legal Services also gave advice on managing the day-to-day struggles of fitting it all in and legal issues that arise when caring for someone.

Herbst suggested setting up advanced directives such as securing a living will, power of attorney, organ donor forms, etc. before a loved one gets sick to minimize confusion and legal battles down the road. He also suggested dictating who will make medical decisions for you and who will handle the monetary aspect.

“It’s important to pick that person for financial and healthcare reasons now, not when you’re slipping and going down the hill,” Herbst said.

As the ninth annual Caregivers Conference came to a close audience members had a chance to have any questioned answered. They also started sharing everything from doctors who make house calls, to pharmacies that deliver medication, to fitness centers that offer free admission to caregivers, showing that word-of-mouth is a powerful tool in battling just about anything.

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