DC Lifespan Respite Caregiver Conference: Strengthening and Educating the 21st Century Caregiver

ConferenceOn September 18, 2015, the District of Columbia’s Office on Aging hosted a conference geared towards primary caregivers and how they manage their lives. The conference also allowed community partners to attend, in case they had any suggestions or ideas on how to better the lives of the caregivers. The conference allowed attendees to choose between varying sessions such as Behavioral Symptom Management Training, The Working Caregiver, Falls Prevention and Safety, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, and Training the Family Caregiver.

I had the pleasure of attending the workshop as an intern for the DC Coalition on Long Term Care. The first conference I was able to attend was the Working Caregiver, led by Sandra Crewe, Ph.D, Dean of Howard University School of Social Work. We began with an icebreaker where we were handed a slip of paper that asked relatively simple questions. They ranged from what was your favorite childhood memory, to what comic character you would like to be. Many participants were taken back by the fact that the icebreaker was a question about them. Most of the guests paused when it was their turn, searching for an answer to their question. When Dr. Crewe reached me, I took a deep breath, stood up, and said, “If I could be any comic character I would be Garfield because he loves naps and lasagna.” Everyone laughed. It was evident that almost everyone in the room was not used to being surrounded by likeminded caregivers, which allowed everyone to seem rather comfortable with a group full of strangers.

We progressed towards sharing personal stories about the most joyful moments of caregiving. Dr. Crewe described the feeling of bliss that she received when her mother, a sufferer of dementia, would remember little moments from the past. She raved on about her mother’s moments of clarity despite the fact that the moments were fleeting. Dr. Crewe turned to the attendees to hear their personal triumphs. One woman described how elated she would feel when her mother would stop and say, “I am so glad you’re the one here to help me.” She explained that her mother had never been the kind to show gratitude, and this simple gesture would make her day. The next attendee to share explained how her sick father would feel ashamed for making her care for him, to which she would always reply “I will always be here for you.” She began to describe her father’s smile to our group, and slowly started to cry. Dr. Crewe put her hand on the woman’s back and gently told her, “Thank you for sharing. We must always remember that it is these moments in life and in caregiving that we must hold on to.” As a caregiver it is essential to look around and try to be thankful for what we have in life. Oftentimes when we think of those who care for loved ones, we only think about the stress and the difficulties that they may face. Dr. Crewe prompted us to all look around and embrace the beauty that life has to offer us. Whether it may be from a simple smile that someone may give us, or a thank you, we must remain positive. The session ended with several other personal stories and a PowerPoint that reinforced the idea of being thankful for what caregiving brings us.

The next meeting I attended was the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren seminar, which was offered by Laurie Blackman, LGSW, Assistant Director of the Multidisciplaary Gerontology Center, School of Social Work, Howard University. Ms. Blackman explained to the group that 3% of grandparents end up being the primary caregivers for their grandchildren. Several people in the room at that time seemed confused by that statistic, as it seemed relatively low in their opinion. Three women in the room expressed that they had been raising their grandchildren for the past few years, while their children sorted out their own lives. Ms. Blackman asked the women if they had noticed any specific challenges associated with the role. One participant explained to the group that her grandson often feels conflicted when his mother visited, as he did not understand who the true parent was. He would often be defiant towards his grandmother, and would beg and cry to leave with his mother. She would hold him and say that she would be back tomorrow to see him, though in reality she would only come every few weeks. The stories and scenarios changed with the person, but they all seemed to have one thing in common: they all loved their grandchildren unconditionally, and adored being able to be such a huge part of their lives.

The final session, Training the Family Caregiver, gave tips and suggestions for assisting loved ones around the home. Lucy Ohiosikha, RN, BSN, the Director of Nursing for VMT Home Health Agency, explained how caregivers could assist their loved ones by ensuring that they have access to a healthy diet based on their medical conditions. She also explained safer and easier methods on how to assist family members with bathing, and with maneuvering throughout the home. She urged that caregivers be aware of the access they have to home health agencies and nurses, as sometimes assisting a loved one may need more specialized care and equipment. The meeting was brief, but very informative.

The conference closed with a panel on Caregiving for Various Populations. There were three panelists who explained how they became caregivers, and how they have overcome or managed the struggles associated with caregiving throughout the years. While each panelist had a different story, they all had a common message. It is essential while being a caregiver to take care of yourself, and to know the options you have to better the care for your loved one. Whether it may be long term home healthcare needs, or respite care, it is essential to understand that there is an entire community who is there to offer support and assistance.

Overall the conference was successful in spreading understanding and compassion for those who attended. It was clear that many of the participants were in need of a helping hand, and to see the DC Office on Aging reach out and extend that hand was truly phenomenal.

For more information, please visit: http://dcoa.dc.gov

– This article was authored by DC Long Term Care Coalition Intern Candace White