Susan Zanette facilitates the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s support group in Williams Lake which provides a safe

Susan Zanette facilitates the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s support group in Williams Lake which provides a safe

Talking and sharing eases caregiver burden

One of the services the Alzheimer Society of B.C. provides for family caregivers is a monthly support group.

One of the services the Alzheimer Society of B.C. provides for family caregivers is a monthly support group.

In Williams Lake the group is facilitated by Susan Zanette, who has worked with elderly people most of her life and is now retired.

Zanette also has personal reasons for facilitating the group in that she has experienced the pain and challenges of caring for people in her own family who have lived with dementia.

“I’ve always worked with people who had dementia and I found their family caregivers weren’t getting the attention they needed,” Zanette says. “It is very easy for caregivers to get burned out.

“Statistics have shown that caregivers will often die before the person they are looking after because they don’t take time to look after themselves.”

Zanette became the group facilitator a year and a half ago after taking a three-day training course with the Alzheimer Society in Vancouver.

She says the two most serious problems for caregivers are stress and depression which can both lead to burnout. Talking with people who are sharing the same experiences helps to alleviate some of that stress. What is said in the room, stays in the room, she adds.

“We do a lot of laughing, some crying and a lot of sharing,” Zanette says. “People often feel so alone when they are caring for a loved one with dementia. Being able to talk about their experiences and problems in a safe environment is the first step in a caregiver maintaining a healthier lifestyle.

She says people who come to the support group are aware that the person for whom they are caring has dementia and invariably say they feel so much better about their situation after spending some time with the group.

In the group she says one of the key skills caregivers learn is how to communicate more positively with their loved one.

For instance, she says there is no point in reminding a person with dementia who slips back in time that they don’t have cows to feed anymore or that their spouse died a few years ago.

Just try to reassure the individual that everything is OK, she says, the spouse is just out visiting and will be back soon, or that someone else in the family has fed the animals.

“Therapeutic fibbing is OK,” Zanette says. “Reality orientation and correcting a person with dementia doesn’t work and just adds to their anxiety.”

The support group meets on the first Wednesday of each month in the conference room at the Seniors Village from 1 to 3 p.m.

In order to join the support group caregivers must first register with the non-profit Alzheimer Society of B.C. by contacting Tara Hildebrand, the Williams Lake and Central Interior education and support co-ordinator.

Hildebrand will provide new members with a package of pertinent literature.

The local support group also offers literature covering various topics such as the characteristics of the different test of dementia, ways of coping with issues such as a loved one’s fear of bathing, complicated behaviours, seemingly irrational fears, large family gatherings, and communication problems, etc.

The society also has information on other community resources that caregivers may not realize are available to them such as counselling if they are experiencing serious depression,  and in-home assistance, available to give the caregiver a break during the week to go shopping, to a doctor’s appointment, or just enjoy an afternoon on their own. Longer term respite care for individuals with dementia is also available for a week or two at a time in care facilities such as Deni House or the Seniors Village. This is set up in order to give the caregiver a rest, Zanette says.

“The group is just one small part of the support services available for family caregivers,” Zanette says.