Ann Tucker of Salem knew she had reached a point where she needed to ask for help in better understanding her father’s memory issues. She was in possession of North Shore Elder Services’ Caregiver Support Specialist, Kathy Perrella’s contact information. It took a year before it became very apparent to Ann herself that she could use some expert advice.
“When I first called Kathy she suggested a class called Savvy Caregiver. It was specific to training caregivers caring for someone with any type of dementia. Initially I did not want to go to a class – in fact, it was the last thing I wanted to do. It was tough committing myself for two hours for six Wednesdays, but I knew it was time to do something.”
Ann and the family had started noticing increased memory problems for her father. Two years ago when her mother became very ill with cancer, Ann stepped in as a daily caregiver for her mother. The family chalked up her father’s change in behaviors to the stress of her mother’s ill health. This past summer her mother improved but her father did not.
There was a level of denial on everyone’s part. Ann questioned at times, whether her father even had dementia. It was a frustrating and lonely place to be for Ann. She was seeing things in her father’s behaviors that no one else was yet seeing.
Dementia to Ann meant forgetting names and dates. “We didn’t see the behaviors as related to the dementia. We thought it was just memory loss and doesn’t everyone experience that with age?”
Even after her father’s dementia diagnosis, Ann understood he had dementia, which explained the memory loss. However, she also believed that he had “something else” which would explain the behavior changes.
“The first thing they told us in the Savvy Caregiver class was that memory loss is NOT a normal part of aging. That did not really sink in for me until the third class. Everything they talked about in class resonated with me. Suddenly I understood that dementia was much more than memory loss. There were many more layers to this.”
As a result of becoming better educated about dementia, Ann Learned that she and her entire family would have to adjust to how they dealt with her father. What they used to do did not work any longer. They were going to have to come up with new ways.
“This class changed my life for the better. It was the best thing I ever did for myself. It is so different now when my dad comes to my house.”
Ann took notes in class to share with other family members. When she is feeling overwhelmed, she refers back to those notes.
The first change Ann made was her communication style with her dad. She wanted to contribute to him having more good days. She integrated practices she learned in Savvy Caregiver into her own repertoire.
She recounts how her dad would tell “stories.” Previously Ann admits she would correct him or “interrogate the poor guy.” Now she sees it differently and goes along with his stories.
“It is simple things like smiling when I see him and laughing at his jokes or stories. I talk to him differently now. I think about the fact that if this is frustrating for me, how does it feel for him? Previously I was not getting that he was also afraid. Now I understand that he is doing the best he can.”
Ann has also found changing the subject works well especially when her dad might experience agitation. Her goal is to keep her dad calm and she sees proof in the benefits of that with his visits to her home. As a result, he happily interacts with his young great-granddaughter in Ann’s home.
Ann feels strongly about people being educated on the topic of dementia because she has seen firsthand the difference it has made – not just in decreasing her level of stress but for the quality of life for this man she loves.
“I think everyone should go through this training. You just don’t know what you don’t know. The Savvy Caregiver helped me realize ‘I can do this.’ It was great to be in this diverse group where everyone ‘gets it.’ We were all sorry to see it end. Kathy (Perrella) and Molly (Pecukonis) did an amazing job leading this group. I am so thankful to North Shore Elder Services for making such an impact on my family and me. I still don’t have all the answers but now I know who to turn to when I need help.”
Although there is not a scheduled date for another Savvy Caregiver group to begin, if you are interested to learn more, contact Kathy Perrella at email@example.com. You can read more about the program by checking out our blog at https://nselder.org/blog/savvy-caregiver-training-offered-at-north-shore-elder-services/