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Vol. LXV, No. 39
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
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Unlimited Chocolate, Honoring Whims: Program Suggests New “Tools” for Caregivers

Ellen Gilbert

Inspired by a New York Times article that described the happy results obtained when Alzheimer’s patients’ whims are indulged, Executive Director Susan Hoskins named this year’s Princeton Senior Resource Center (PSRC) annual fall program, “Chocolate for Memory: Practical Strategies for Family Caregivers; Parkinson’s, Stroke, Alzheimer’s, Dementia.”

The conference will take place on Saturday, October 22, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the PSRC, located in the Suzanne Patterson building behind Borough Hall. In addition to keynote speaker Tracey Vause Earland, panelists Marybeth Carshaw-Stinson, Nicole Davis, Guiselle Dickson, Lisa Rosicki, and Fern Spadafino will offer their expertise, and participants will be encouraged to ask them “practical, every-day questions” on coping with aging loved ones.

Breakfast and a resource fair will precede the formal program, and yes, chocolate will be given out at the end to take home, along with a brand-new resource directory.

“No matter how good a job you do, the person continues to decline,” Ms. Hoskins observed in a recent discussion about caregiving. The problem is, the person doing the caring may spiral downward as well. Ms. Hoskins described the onset of “caregiver creep” as how “things get worse and worse while you don’t even realize it.” Offering a hypothetical scenario, she described how a family member may begin by volunteering to drive an aging relative or friend to the grocer; next comes help with writing out the grocery list; help with putting away groceries follows and, at some point, the caregiver will find him or herself doing the cooking. The denouement occurs when one day the caregiver is “collapsing at the table and feeling overwhelmed.” The tipping point does not need to be a major excursion or hearing a bad diagnosis, noted Ms. Hoskins. “It can just be from heating up a can of soup.”

Tired of “just giving” caretakers advice “to relax,” Ms. Hoskins hopes that the conference will provide practical skills that make caregivers “feel more capable.” Statistics suggest that one in four adults is a caregiver; this can include someone who stops by every Saturday to pick up groceries, as well as those who are “on” 24/7. “It’s huge,” said Ms. Hoskins. “They’re struggling to care for parents, their children, and to hold down jobs.” Relax? “They don’t have time to go to a spa — especially in this economy.” 

Referring to her own recent experience while visiting her husband’s parents, Ms. Hoskins described the “emotional piece” that is a significant part of caregiving. “These are my in-laws; I’ve never seen them naked before,” she recalled thinking. “I was pleased that I was able to provide the support, and it was humbling to know what my sister-in-law is doing every day.”

Responding positively when an aging parent or patient wants breakfast at an odd hour, letting them have a baby doll, having pets in-house, and catering to culinary whims reportedly helped to foster a sense of calm and independence among the Phoenix patients. Described in what Ms. Hoskins reported as one of the “most shared articles” in her field, “the state tried to cite us for having chocolate on the nursing chart,” the residence’s director of research was quoting as saying. The staff’s response: “It’s not a medication. It’s better than Xanax.”

“What we try to do at these conferences is to offer important content,” said Ms. Hoskins. “It’s really a community education event. Our goal is to help family and professional caretakers have the tools they need. Coordinating care is exhausting; as a family caregiver you know you need some help, but you don’t know how to get to it. We are a connecting point. We really take the ‘resource’ part of our name seriously.” Even those who believe their circumstances are not too dire can benefit, she said. “It’s good to plan for the future.”

For more information visit www.princetonsenior.org, and watch for an article about Alzheimer’s Disease in the October Health Insert of Princeton Magazine.

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