Area Agency on Aging offers online program for caregivers

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published August 7, 2020

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METRO DETROIT — The Area Agency on Aging 1-B is taking its caregiver class, the Powerful Tools for Caregivers program, and hosting it online so those caring for a sick loved one can still learn despite the pandemic.

Jeannine Magowan, the manager of health promotion for the Area Agency on Aging, said the class is aimed at teaching caregivers how to better serve their loved ones and themselves.

“It’s a workshop that’s designed for caregivers, and it is not something that they would go to, to learn about the specific disease of the person they are caring for; it’s more about learning how to better assist the person,” she explained. “It’s a class where there’s a lot of group discussion and participants learn from each other. We do a lot of brainstorming and breakout sessions. There also is a textbook that they can use along with the class.”

Rochester resident Kanu Mehta took part in the class in 2018 in order to better assist his wife, Sumi, who has Alzheimer’s disease. He said he learned several valuable lessons in the program.

“Each session was different. I learned about self-care and how I need to take care of myself if I want to take care of someone else,” said Mehta. “I learned I had to reduce my own personal stress and had to put emphasis on what was important and let go of the trivial. Communicating with others also was important. You think so much about the disease, but you need to learn how to talk to the person going through that experience and how to pass understanding of that experience on to others.”

“We try to help them reduce stress and help communicate effectively with family members, health care providers and any other paid help,” added Magowan. “We talk about the benefits of taking care of themselves; we talk about ways to reduce guilt, anger and depression; (and) ways to help relax. We also show how to set goals and problem-solve and how to make tough decisions.”

Magowan said that offering these lessons can make a significant difference in the lives of caregivers and that some of the most important lessons are about how caregivers have to take care of themselves.

“We really believe that caregivers often forget to take care of themselves when they are in these situations,” she said. “When you are caring for your mom, you don’t think of yourself as a caregiver, so you think of it as temporary and put yourself aside. A lot of times it’s not a short period of time, and family caregivers tend to get burned out and then they stop being able to care for that person.”

Mehta said the class genuinely helped him work through the flurry of emotions that come from helping someone with a debilitating condition.

“As a caregiver, you are often watching a loved one dying a slow death,” he remarked. “Their decline happens in slow motion. When you go through that process, you grieve and there’s a lot of emotion, such as guilt or depression or fear. This class really helped me learn about that and be mindful, or knowing what is happening while it happens.”

The class has an orientation session scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18, to help inform people about the platform. That is the deadline to sign up.

“We have a telephone number people can call to sign up, and that is (833) 262-2200, or they can email wellnessprograms@aaa1b.org to sign up for the program,” said Magowan. “There is no cost to take part. Right now, because it is only able to be offered as a virtual workshop, so they do need to have access to a (smartphone), tablet or computer. We do hope to have in-person classes again soon.”

The classes will take place from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. each Tuesday through Sept. 29.

“I belong to support groups and I have definitely recommended this class to them,” said Mehta. “I highly recommend it to others. It’s a good interactive way of learning.”

Magowan stressed how learning these lessons can help the caregiver and the person being cared for.

“Your health and well-being is important, and we want you to thrive while you’re caregiving, so taking a class like this would be very helpful for you to do so,” she said.