Giving caregivers a break with a day of ‘wellness’

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Trina Taylor, 34, of Long Beach, became a caregiver to her father Henry Walker, when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease five years ago. Her father started getting lost on his way to work, she said, then “he started accusing people of taking things, not feeding him.”

“He started accusing my mother and us,” Taylor said.

This is when she realized that something was happening to him and searched for medical help.

Like many caregivers, Taylor takes care of a family member with Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia that affects memory, and sometimes speech.

Taylor, attended the fifth annual This Day’s for You Caregiver Wellness Day April 22, presented by the Gerontology Program at CSUN in collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Association to provide a day off for caregivers.

The event was for caregivers of Alzheimer’s for their hard and non-stop work, said Debra Sheets, Gerontology Program coordinator and co-organizer for the event.

The event provided speakers information on resources in the community, latest research on Alzheimer’s disease, live entertainment, support groups and massages for the attendants to enjoy their day.

Caregivers do not often take a day off, and this event provided “a day for them, so they can know that they are not alone in the world, and to remind them about themselves,” Sheets said.

Eighty percent of care for Alzheimer’s patients is provided by the family, she said.

Taylor said one day, early in the morning, her father was running in the middle of the street. He left the house and the police found him nine hours later.

She said her father later told them he did not remember the way home and walked for hours.

“I wasn’t familiar with Alzheimer’s. It was very deep and it can be a painful process,” Taylor said.

“Once one of your loved ones loses their mental state, it hurts,” Taylor said, as she shared her story with other caregivers who experienced similar situations.

Taking care of a person who suffers from Alzheimer’s can be compared to caring for a baby, she said.

“It’s frustrating, when you don’t get support of the family,” Taylor said. “Everyone needs to participate.”

Taylor said some of her frustrations stem from her being the only one from among six siblings to take care of their father.

“I was close to him, but I became even closer,” Taylor said. “You have to spend more time than normal. You’re forced to become closer.”

Brenda Avadian, creator of thecaregiversvoice.com and author of “Where’s my shoes?”, her first book on Alzheimer’s, spoke to the audience with humor and joy on her personal stories. She volunteered to be the caregiver for her father when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in December 1996, and brought him to live with her.

There were times when he would do things and she wouldn’t know whether to laugh or to cry, she said.

“(Alzheimer’s) taught me what’s important in life,” she said. “It taught me what people are. I’m more concerned (about) my people.”

“It is very important that they have a special day for them and (be) among other people to take advantage of an hour massage,” said Marie Mayen-Cho, regional director of Alzheimer’s Association in the San Fernando Valley and co-organizer of the event.

“(It’s) getting them out of the house and having time for themselves, that they don’t always get to do,” she said.

Floro Ordonez, 42, has been working as a caregiver for seven years at the Aegis Residence Center in Granada Hills. He said he enjoys his job as a caregiver, even if there are frustrating moments with some of the residents with Alzheimer’s.

“Sometimes (it’s) a really challenging job,” Ordonez said. “Sometimes they are going to be OK. The next day they don’t focus (on) what you’re saying, (and) you have to talk to them very simple.”

Ordonez, who has attended the event three times, said he found the event helpful.

Earlie Nichols, a retired 84-year-old pastor, has been a caregiver for his 82-year-old wife, who has suffered from Alzheimer’s for almost three years.

“I never even heard about it. Until she was diagnosed, it was a challenge,” Nichols said.

Nichols said he started realizing something was happening to his wife, “because she would act in one way and speak in another way.”

Nichols said the early Alzheimer’s symptoms of his wife stunned him.

“I would go home and she would surprise me with things she would say and do,” he said. “We were very close and sometimes I would kiss her and she (would) turn her face.”

“Give them love. That’s the most effective” Nichols said. “She feels the love. Sometimes I tell her that I love her and she won’t be able to tell the words, but she feels the emotion.”

Gabriel Gonzalez can be reached at gabriela.p.gonzalez@csun.edu.