They come with the weight of the caregiver role on their shoulders. Some take care of a parent with dementia. Others look after a spouse with physical disabilities. Some care for a loved one living in a facility.
Through a monthly Monday caregiver group at St. Mark, Fallston, people gather to support each other and to share time with those who understand. Attendees air grievances, find resources, obtain advice, learn adjustment to the caregiving role, and mostly, learn they are not alone.
“People who are caregivers have a great need to share their experiences,” said Sharon Eifried, a registered nurse with a doctorate in nursing and co-facilitator of Caregivers Support Group with Ellen Kujala, both St. Mark parishioners. “We’ve been talking to these people for so long. They have so many problems and not a lot of support.”
Anyone in the community – Catholic and non-Catholics, parishioners and non-parishioners – can attend the sessions, which begin with an opening prayer and quiet reflection.
“People really like that,” said Mrs. Eifried. “They’re running and running around; they come in and get to sit down.”
Group discussions include coping with stress, caring for self, safety at home, care options, making care decisions and other strategies. Speakers from a bevy of service-providing organizations are invited to inform listeners about hospice, day care for elderly, in-home care, occupational therapy, finances and more.
Mrs. Eifried, a nursing professor at Towson University, said it’s impossible for an individual to provide care 24/7.
“People try to do this, and they never get out of the house. They burn out fast,” she said.
“We find caregivers who don’t take care of themselves,” said Mrs. Eifried, “then they become sick themselves, mentally or physically.”
The facilitator tells caregivers not to assume that no one wants to help them. She said caregivers must ask for a specific thing when they need help.
“For example, ‘Can you come and stay with Mom Sunday so I can go to church?’ ” she said.
Mrs. Eifried also offered tips and encouragement, some adapted from meeting handouts, for the caregiver:
Caregiver challenges may include:
• struggles with taking on new role
• decision-making on behalf of loved one
• time commitment
• increasing difficulty in caring for self
• alone in situation (only child, or siblings non-supportive)
• financial and legal dilemmas
• learning to ask for help and where to turn
• sometimes affects other relationships (i.e., marriage)
• safety issues for loved one
• avoiding isolation
Tips to encourage caregivers
• set priorities
• arrange regular family meetings
• don’t take on task 24/7; ask for specific help
• seek counseling; watch for signs of depression
• take care of yourself; spend time outside of the house
• educate yourself about a loved one’s condition
• trust instincts
• seek support from other caregivers
• understand emotions of a loved one and why they need help
• plan ahead yet be flexible
• keep up your spirits and that of loved one
• maintain realistic expectations
• involve loved one in daily routines
The St. Mark Caregivers Support Group contact is Sharon Eifried, 410-638-1686, or firstname.lastname@example.org. No sign-up is needed for the 11:30 a.m. Monday meetings – anyone may join.