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.
Some of the most common needs of caregivers include simple requests, such as that of time alone, help with laundry or opportunities for stress relief. Nelson said engaging the whole family with tasks can help, but community resources can prove to be invaluable.
"If you just stay at home by yourself all day and do housework and daily chores, it's tough," Cole said.
She's found the Magna Senior Center to be a great source of respite, as she's allowed to tag along on her mother's membership and participate in classes and other social activities she enjoys.
"It's definitely a highlight," Cole said, adding that they try to attend three or four times each week.
The option of local senior centers, she said, isn't often talked about in caregiver circles, but it is something she can't live without.
Kyle, while forgetful, is still mobile and can feed, dress and toilet herself, making Cole's job somewhat easier, but every day brings new challenges. She said being a caregiver has made her a stronger person.
"I'm stronger in character," Cole said.
She's had to tell her mother "no" for months as doctors removed various medications, and she's learned about nutritional needs, acting as her mother's dietitian. She's also had to draw boundaries between her siblings and their mother's money, and become Kyle's guardian conservator.
Dealing with the rest of the family, Cole said, is probably the most stressful part. She just wants the best for her mother and for everyone else "to take a turn."
"They don't get to enjoy her sweet spirit," Cole said. "They're missing out on so much with her. She's not going to be around forever."
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