Caregivers need support, too; resources can help with stress, needs

Published: Thursday, Nov. 15 2012 7:00 p.m. MST

Linda Cole plays piano for her mother, Beverly Kyle, at their home in Magna on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. Beverly moved into her daughter's home nine years ago and her daughter is her primary caregiver.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — Linda Cole is her mother's caregiver, but that doesn't even begin to describe what she does on a daily basis.

"I do everything," Cole said. "I'm much more than a caregiver. I'm her fiduciary, her guardian, her conservator, her nurse. I couldn't pay a caregiver to do what I do. They're not allowed to do all that I do.

"Taking care of her is a full-time job and more for me."

For the past nine years, Beverly Kyle, 80, who suffers with Alzheimer's disease, has tagged along on outings with the family, date nights and the like, as well as routine trips to the grocery store. It is too expensive to have someone else watch her, even for a short time, Cole said.

But the association and time spent together, even though Kyle doesn't remember much at all, she said, has made them "the best of friends."

"My mother still takes care of me. She's non-critical, so supportive and helps to give me the support that I need to do what I need to do to take care of her. And she appreciates me," Cole said. "Her smile and appreciation for what I do means the world to me."

Cole intends to care for her mother in her own home until Kyle dies, a loss Cole said will be undoubtedly hard. But she plans to take what she's learned and help others in the community to manage the often difficult task of caring for loved ones.

It is a task that is becoming more and more common for the aging and soon-to-retire generations who are finding themselves the most suitable choice to care for their parents.

According to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, 24 percent of baby boomers will reach age 65 with at least one parent living, meaning retirement plans often include planning care for loved ones as well. Some have adult children who will also need care.

The Utah Coalition for Caregiver Support and Utah Hospice and Palliative Care Organization held a day of rejuvenation and education Tuesday to arm caregivers from across the valley with the boost they need to accomplish the hard work they do day in and day out.

Caregivers learned about a variety of resources available to them, including new technologies in the form of smartphone applications and patient tracking devices, local support groups and the potential of therapy animals.

"You want to be in touch with others in the community who feel your pain and understand what you're going through," said Michelle Bruno, a local blogger and caregiver.

Bruno said utilizing technologies in caring for loved ones isn't meant to distance one from the duties at hand, but to remove the burden bestowed by daily tasks, such as managing sometimes lengthy medication regimens and keeping track of loved ones.

Vicki Yost, a yoga instructor and caregiver to a husband with Parkinson's disease, said caregivers have to find time for themselves as well, to achieve a balance.

"If you do not learn to take care of yourself, you cannot take care of others," Yost said.

Caregivers who have a positive attitude and invest their time in positive, building activities end up being the most successful, said Kathy Nelson, caregiver training specialist for Salt Lake County Aging Services.

Nelson said knowing the desired results can help caregivers achieve the most appropriate resources for their needs.

She suggested switching door knobs to handles for anyone who can no longer grip with strength, or using old foam curlers on silverware handles to help with a similar problem and keep costs down.

"Don't be afraid to have courageous conversations," Nelson said, adding that being assertive with delivery drivers or various service providers will elicit more desirable results.

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