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Missoula Aging Services: Thriving – not just surviving – while caregiving
Missoula Aging Services

Missoula Aging Services: Thriving – not just surviving – while caregiving

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“I don’t ever want to be put in a ‘home.’ ”

“If I ever leave this house, it will only be if I’m feet first.”

How many of us have heard these or similar words from our elderly relatives? Often we take their words to heart and try to give our loved ones what they wish for in their last years. We become their caregivers.

Approximately one in three people in the United States is a caregiver for someone who is sick, disabled or aged. But that’s not the most surprising statistic. An estimated 30 percent of family caregivers die before the person to whom they are providing care.

Caregiving can be a lonely and exhausting job, even if we are doing it for someone we love. Some caregivers attend support groups in order to get advice and encouragement from others.

In Missoula, we have the following support groups available for caregivers:

• Afternoon Group: Missoula Aging Services Caregiver Support Group meets the third Tuesday of each month at 4 p.m. at Missoula Aging Services, 337 Stephens Ave. Call the Resource Center at 728-7682 if you would like more information.

• Noon Group: Alzheimer’s Support Group for family, friends and caregivers meets the second Wednesday of each month at noon at Mountain West Bank, 3301 Great Northern Ave. (behind Costco).

• Evening Group: Alzheimer’s Support Group for family, friends and caregivers meets the fourth Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at Missoula Senior Center, 705 S. Higgins Ave. Call registered nurse Jackie Johnson at 549-3433 or email to learn more about this or the noon group.

Missoula Aging Services also offers "Powerful Tools for Caregivers," an evidence-based and copyrighted curricula that teaches caregivers to take care of themselves while caring for others. The class has proven to be helpful to caregivers in a variety of situations, such as those with different medical diagnoses, living situations or caregiver/care recipient relationships.

To give you an idea of what is covered, here are some of the topics in the six-week course:

In the first class, called “Taking Care of You,” the focus is on adjusting to change, managing self-care and making action plans to reach personal goals.

The topic for the second session is “Identifying and Reducing Personal Stress.” Caregivers identify major sources of their stress and explore positive ways to manage it. The hands-on class ends with a useful breathing relaxation exercise.

In the third class, participants look at how to communicate feelings, needs and concerns. They practice and learn how to use “I” messages in order to communicate more clearly and effectively with others involved in their caregiving situation, including other family members, medical personnel and the person for whom they are giving care. This class ends with a progressive relaxation exercise.

The fourth class is called “Communicating in Challenging Situations,” and covers two different types of assertive communication techniques. Both are taught to and practiced by participants.

“Learning from Our Emotions” is the fifth class in which the participants learn to identify their emotions and then brainstorm ways to deal with those emotions constructively.

The final class is titled “Mastering Caregiving Decisions.” This session includes information on holding a family meeting, the power of optimism and the importance of continuing to set goals and make action plans.

At MAS the class is typically offered two times per year. Over the years we’ve heard from many family caregivers how valuable the training has been for them. Some want to take the class a second time after a couple years to brush up on their skills. Most heartening to hear is that the tools they’ve learned have helped them better cope with the stress in their lives and lessen what often had become the burden of caregiving ... thus improving their relationships with their loved one, other family members and themselves.

The next series of "Powerful Tools for Caregivers" will be offered at Missoula Aging Services for six weeks starting Jan. 15. A fee based on a sliding scale is charged, with a minimum cost of $30. Please join us to explore and learn the tools that will help you care for yourself while also caring for those you love. Call 728-7682 to register.

Susan Barmeyer is a resource specialist at Missoula Aging Services and helps teach the "Powerful Tools for Caregivers" class series.

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