The Graham County Health Department is offering a new lecture series to help caretakers as they go through the loss and grief of caring for someone with dementia.
Andrea Fuller, home care manager at Eden Health, can’t sing enough praises about “Finding Meaning and Hope.” Every Friday she gathers with a handful of others at the Graham County Senior Center to listen to recorded lectures and to discuss what they’ve learned.
Fuller works with families of patients going through the ongoing loss of dementia every day.
Eden Health is a non-skilled caregiver support service, offering companionship and personalized care.
When dementia slowly takes someone away, the grief can be overwhelming, Fuller said.
“The concept, the idea that somebody is there but not there, is difficult to comprehend. This series can help your brain process this reality,” she said. “The loss grows day by day, but the person is still there. The person is physically in front of you, but they aren’t the person you’ve known them to be.”
The lecture series is based on the book, Loving Someone Who Has Dementia: How to Find Hope While Coping with Stress and Grief by Pauline Boss, an expert on caregiver grief.
“It’s so powerful. The skills that caregivers can gain from the course is empowering. It helps them process their own emotions to care for someone with Alzheimer’s,” Fuller said.
A caregiver can be a person who works in the field professionally or someone taking care of an elderly family member.
In the case of taking care of a family member or spouse, a caregiver may experience multiple levels of grief, Fuller said.
“The series helps a caregiver understand that you are processing grief over slowly losing a loved one, but a loss of a life,” she said. “You and your husband are anticipating a life in retirement, travel, or incredible life with your kids. But you hit a detour in that road because that life has changed. You’re grieving not only the life of your partner but the life you both have worked so hard for.”
Attendees receive a bookmark after every lecture, one that provides them tips and affirming sentences for them to say aloud.
“The bookmark can have you say, ‘My grief is ongoing,’ Another thing they have you say is, ‘There can be no closure because the dementia continues,’” she said. “There are action items and a process for you so you can process your emotions.”
Although she is only partially through the course, Fuller said she already would recommend the series to professional caregivers and family caregivers.
Rosa Contreras, Graham County health program coordinator, said the program was paid for through the State of Arizona.
Besides learning the coursework, Contreras said the series also provides an opportunity for the group to feel support from other caregivers.
Camaraderie is built in the class between the attendees Contreras said, lending support to those who need it.
Although there are only six people currently attending the series, Contreras said additional sessions will be scheduled and she hopes attendance will grow.
“Right now, we’re still figuring out scheduling, but we’re trying to schedule it during the best times for the caregivers,” Contreras said.