As we move into the heart of the holiday season, it’s important to keep your wits about you and your stress level at a sane level. This is especially true if you are a caregiver.

When you normally deal with the holidays, you think about family, friends, and so on as you make plans, attend events, or travel. If you have the added responsibility of being a caregiver, things can get out of hand very fast.

Your best bet is to use common sense as you plan your days. For instance, if you work with someone a day or two a week and will be gone for a week or more during the holidays, you’ll need to let them know that and see what you can do to find a temporary replacement for the days you’ll be gone.

For those who are homebound, the holidays can be very stressful from an emotional standpoint so, as a caregiver, it’s important to take that into consideration. If the person in question is a family member, is there a way to include him or her in family events, dinners, parties, and so on? Is there a special gift that would really be appreciated (besides your time and presence)?

If the person you help is not a family member, can you help to get her together with her family in any way? If he has no family, what else could you do to make his holidays brighter?

Beyond these considerations, never forget that, even if you don’t volunteer with Community Caregivers to help others, most of us are still caregivers within our own families and the holidays can make that harder. Try to never lose sight of the big picture at this time of year.

Take things a day at a time and don’t try to do too much. Remember that spending time with family and friends is what the season is all about and the most important gift you can give is your time and love.

The parties, the dinners, the tree, the gifts and cookies, the decorations and shopping are all part of the season. Just don’t forget that those are not necessarily the most important parts. And above all, don’t forget at this busy time of year to take extra good care of yourself because there are people who need you.

From everyone at Community Caregivers, may you have a wonderful holiday season and please let us know if we can help you or if you have some time to help us. That’s what it’s always been about: Neighbors helping neighbors.

A report from the American Association of Retired Persons that just came out states that, in New York State alone, there are 7,000 New Yorkers on waiting lists for transportation and other non-medical services, and four million New Yorkers who provide “informal” services to family and neighbors (AARP.org). 

Most urgently, the report also states that caregiving will be the number-one workplace issue in the near future as baby boomers age and the population of the elderly also increases due to people living longer.  Caregivers providing non-medical services can often keep relatives out of nursing homes and other care facilities for years, just by helping with bills, shopping, errands, and transportation to appointments.

But many must work, or don’t live near their relatives, and count on organizations to help.

Community Caregivers, a not-for-profit organization, has provided these services in Albany County since 1994, and is preparing for the need to increase. 

It already has. We have plenty of clients to serve, and have already expanded from serving just Altamont, the Hilltowns, Bethlehem, and Guilderland, to all of Albany County now. The problem is getting volunteers in the new areas of expansion; most want to stay in their local areas.

Throughout the last eight years, Community Caregivers has had 500 volunteers who provided over 28,000 direct services to over 800 clients. Community Caregivers’ model is to recruit and train volunteers, and match them up with clients who get services for free.

The organization survives on grants and community support, to pay for oversight of volunteers, an registered nurse who does an initial assessment of the client, and program staff to provide ongoing training both for volunteers and the community on caregiving.

AARP and other organizations are advocating for more federal and state resources for caregivers.  Community Caregivers receives New York State Department of Health funds now, and hopes to be able to both get more funding to provide services and advocate for caregivers themselves to be able to be reimbursed for their services.  This will be increasingly more important in the next few years. 

Community Caregivers website, www.communitycaregivers.org, has information on volunteering, referring clients, and services provided.

Editor’s note: Kathy Burbank is the executive director of Community Caregivers.

At first, I hardly noticed the change in her demeanor.  It was two years ago and my Mom had been living alone for six years since Dad passed away. She was nearing her 85th birthday.

As a long-distance caregiver, I could ignore a forgotten name or misspoken word.  But when Mom decided to resign as treasurer from an organization she had served for 52 years, I instinctively knew something was up.

She gave up e-mail next, explaining that she wasn’t sure she could turn on the computer and there were too many jokes in her inbox. So we cancelled her Internet service.

All of these “symptoms” occurred after her cardiologist told her he wanted to conduct a stress test to ensure that her two stents were working properly.  True to form, she had convinced herself he would find something wrong and worked herself into a state of anxiety the likes of which I had never seen.

Good news though — all was well. However, the damage was done. Her self-confidence had eroded.

Her 87th birthday is next month and her memory has continued to decline. She came to visit me this summer and I could tell she was uncomfortable being in a different place.

One night she said, “I know you are a relative but I can’t think of your name.”  So, I told her and she wrote it down and put it in her purse. Then she apologized for not remembering I was her daughter. 

Her ability to process information also continues to decline, and she struggles to say what she means in conversations. Talking with her on the telephone is very difficult as she tries to describe people because she cannot remember their names.

A family member goes to doctors’ appointments with her because she is unable to completely relate what was said. She now has a companion aid six days a week who helps clean, cook, and keeps her engaged in conversation, helps grocery shop and helps with other activities.

The worst part is that she is aware of what is happening.  My father had Alzheimer’s and she cared for him. Now she believes she will follow the same path. 

I tried discussing assisted living, pointing out that there would be socialization and activities. The upkeep of the house would no longer be an issue.

But she said, “That’s one foot in the grave.”

She wants to stay in her home.

And, if you think the stories about trying to get your elderly parent to turn in the car keys aren’t true, think again. It is their last vestige of independence and they use every possible tactic to keep driving.

While my caregiving duties have increased three fold during the past year, I realize this is what I must do to ensure that my mother has the best quality of life possible for as long as she is here.

It is very hard, being an independent person, to realize you are a lifeline.  Every day I have to tell myself that she cannot live the life I want her to live, but the one she chooses.

For all of you who are caregivers, I hope you will understand from my story that you are not alone.  There are many of us, and our circumstances vary. Some have family support; some do not.  But we do what we must to take care of our loved ones.

November is National Caregivers Month and it is important to remember and honor those who keep their loved ones safe and secure.  I identify with each of you and urge you to not be ashamed to reach out and ask for help be it family, friends, or a volunteer from Community Caregivers. 

For more information about Community Caregivers, visit our website at www.Communitycaregivers.org or call 456-2898.

Caregiving is a tough job. It’s especially tough when the one you’re caring for has Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America estimates that as many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer's disease and one to four family members act as caregivers for each individual with Alzheimer's disease.

The need is great            

In response to this growing problem, the Northeastern New York Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is again partnering with Community Caregivers and the Bethlehem Public Library to hold a series of programs for caregivers.

Brief descriptions follow; for more information, see our website at www.commuitycaregivers.org. All of these programs are free, but registration is required:

Know the 10 Signs: Early Detection Matters on Sept. 6 — A 1-hour interactive workshop outlining the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's disease; separates myth from reality and addresses commonly held fears about Alzheimer's and dementia;

Memory Loss, Dementia, and Alzheimer's Disease: The Basics on Sept. 20 — A 1-hour overview of dementia and Alzheimer's disease and their progression;

Improving Communication on Oct. 4 — A 1-hour program outlining the causes of common communication issues, barriers we create, and tips and strategies for communicating with someone with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia;

Validation Theory and Therapeutic Fibbing on Oct. 18 — A 90-minute interactive discussion about how to use validation to enter the world of a person with Alzheimer's disease. Your loved one may not be able to come back and live in your reality, but you can take trips to hers or his;

Recognizing and Coping with Caregiver Stress on Nov. 8 — A 60- to 90-minute program discussing what causes those who care for individuals with Alzheimer's and dementia to experience emotional and physical stress. The program also addresses how to handle the stress effectively and how humor can help; and

Holiday Hints for Caregivers on Nov. 22 — A one-hour discussion about how to better manage responsibilities during the busy holiday season to make the experience as positive as possible for you and your loved one.

Make plans to attend

The series drew record attendance last year (at the Guilderland Public Library), so plan to register early. Contact Tonya Garmley at 867-4999, ext. 200 or tonya.garmley@alz.org.

Location:

Over the past two months, Community Caregivers has added six people to its board of directors. The all-volunteer organization, which has been providing services to people in the towns of Berne, Bethlehem, Guilderland, Knox, and New Scotland for many years, recently expanded its service area into the city of Albany.

The organization is pleased to welcome the following new directors:

Girish Bhatia is the president and chief executive officer of GCOM Software Inc. GCOM Software provides services to the state of New York and New York City. The company was nominated as the fastest-growing company in the Capital Region in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Girish and his staff of over 200 serve the information-technology needs of the commercial and public sector.

Cindy Bulger is a resident of Delmar who retired in 2011 after a 35-year nursing career focused on critical care, home care, and public health. Cindy’s home-care experience includes seven years with the Albany Visiting Nurse Association and four years of hospital-affiliated adult home care at Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J. Cindy is also a volunteer in the Habitat for Humanity ReStores and the Albany County Medical Reserve Corps.

— Joann Dunham Estes of Clifton Park is managing director of Computer Aid Inc. CAI is a global I.T. service firm that is actively engaged in managing over 100 Fortune 1000 companies and government agencies around the world. Prior to her work with CAI, Joann was a regional sales vice president, Government Solutions Sector for ACS, a Xerox Company in Clifton Park. Joann’s expertise in business development, strategic planning, and partnerships within the state and local public sectors is welcome on the board.

Mary Scanlan of Glenmont founded the Scanlan Communications Group in 1989. Her contributions to the arts, government, and the field of communications are extensive. Mary gained national media experience as an editor at Harper's Bazaar. She also served as director of Public Information for the New York State Department of Social Services under governors Hugh L. Carey and Mario Cuomo. Mary has written professional articles and her personal essays have been broadcast on the local National Public Radio affiliate. Mary has served on the board of directors of the Affording Housing Council of the City of Albany, Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood, and DePaul Housing Management.

Nicole Stein resides in Guilderland and has been the vice president for marketing at the State Employees’ Federal Credit Union since 2010. Prior to joining SEFCU in 2008, Nicole's professional experience spanned marketing and public-relations agencies and not-for-profit organizations. Nicole's community involvement is extensive. She currently serves on the board of directors of Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce and previously sat on the boards of the Daughters of Sarah Jewish Foundation, the AIDS Council of Northeastern NY, and the Hebrew Academy of the Capital District. Nicole is also a past president of the American Marketing Association, NY Capital Region Chapter.

Carolyn Sutliff lives in Selkirk and is a Certified Financial Planner and Managing Director - Investments with Wells Fargo Advisors. A long-time supporter of Community Caregivers, Carolyn has also been active in the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts and served as trustee of the Methodist Church in Pleasantville, N.Y. Carolyn helped found the Habitat for Humanity Chapter in Westchester County and continues to be supportive of its work. Carolyn also served on the Investment Committee of the United Way, focusing on senior issues.

Editor’s note: Mary Neumann is on the Community Caregivers Publicity Committee.

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