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Caregiver’s Resource Day offers hope and humor

Posted: July 3, 2008 1:01 a.m.
Updated: September 3, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Brenda Avadian was the keynote speaker at the symposium. Her presentation, entitled "Can I Survive as a Caregiver? And, By the Way is it Too Much to Ask for a Sprinkle of Joy?" emphasized that "We can survive as caregivers, and we will find moments of joy."

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‘What needs to change is not what is out there…but how we look at things,” said Judith Harris.

As the emcee and one of the featured speakers for the Caregiver’s Resource Day symposium held at the SCV Senior Center last Saturday, Harris’ advice was suitable to the “we” in any aspect of life, but, more specifically, it was offered to the “we” who are caregivers. Often feeling overwhelmed, under-appreciated and just plain picked-on by life, these folks could benefit from an attitude adjustment. Harris emphasized that they are not being singled out for misfortune, and that life is just what is.

“This conference today is about change — not only from a knowledge point of view, but about the story we tell ourselves about what’s happening,” she added. “We can’t change our lives, but we can change our expectations.”

Under that mantra, the symposium was an upbeat exchange of knowledge, personal experience, humor and hope, and those that packed the Senior Center’s dining/recreation room came away reenergized and better prepared to face their challenges, whether they were just starting out on their caregiver journey or in the midst of it.

Knowledge, hope and humor
Starting with registration and a continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and finishing with ice cream at about 12:30 p.m., the symposium was chock-full of goodies to digest physically, mentally and spiritually. There were four speaker-presentations, and before, between and after these, attendees visited vendor tables presenting a variety of care options. Comfort Keepers In-Home Care was the title sponsor and other sponsors included Accredited Nursing Care, Bankers Life & Casualty, Continuity Care In-Home Nursing, The Scooter Store, and Santa Clarita Homemakers & Personal Attendants. Participating vendors included Aegis of Granada Hills, the Alzheimer’s Association, Assisted Home Hospice, Cal Care Staffing, Concepts for Living, Health Care Partners, Health Net, Home Instead, LA Caregiver Resource Center, Santa Clarita Adult Day Health Care, and Shield Health Care. Prize drawing donors included Tranquility Spa & Salon and Mimi’s.

Brenda Avadian
With an introduction by Harris, the day’s keynote speaker, Brenda Avadian took the podium around 9:30 a.m. Her presentation, entitled “Can I survive as a Caregiver? And, by the way is it too much to ask for a sprinkle of Joy?” emphasized that, “We can survive as caregivers, and we will find moments of joy.”
As told in more detail in her book “‘Where’s my shoes?’ My Father’s Walk through Alzheimer’s,” her presentation took the audience through a poignant and often humorous account of Avadian’s own years as a caregiver.

With her father living in Wisconsin, and Avadian and her husband living in California, she said her journey as a caregiver began with a phone call 12 years ago. Though her brother was living with her father, social services had become involved because her father was deteriorating and was not getting help. When they flew back to Wisconsin to visit him, they realized that, indeed, he was in need of help, and they were presented with four choices: merely visit, and leave, hoping things would work out; get him some in-home care; get him into an assisted living facility; or bring him home to live with them.

Realizing they couldn’t just leave him as he was, and living too far away to adequately monitor either assisted living or in-home care, Avadian and her husband discussed it over a Wisconsin-style beer tasting and “waxed philosophical.” Eventually, they decided to bring him home with them.

That’s how we started the role of caregiving,” Avadian said, “with a DUI — deciding under the influence.”
And she added, “We did an estate sale. The happiest moment was evicting my brother.”
Twice during her presentation, Avadian paused to ask a question of the audience and each time she passed out a book to the individual who responded.

Avadian’s story continued through the many hard and the many joyous moments she and her husband lived during her father’s odd behaviors and decline. He eventually moved into a nursing facility and later passed away.

The experience would launch Avadian on a journey to help other caregivers through her books, Web site (TheCaregiversVoice.com) and presentations such as the one at Caregiver’s Resource Day. And she was proud to say, “My father would be surprised today to know how many people have been helped by the last years of his life.”

After her presentation Avadian signed complementary copies of “‘Where’s my shoes?’” While attendees made the rounds of the vendor booths, and raffle prizes were distributed.

Myles McNamara
After the break, Myles McNamara, owner of Comfort Keepers In-Home Care, took the podium and offered advice on selecting home care for your loved ones. He emphasized that “preparation is knowledge and knowledge is power.” Basically, regarding in-home care, you have three options: get help from a friend, hire a caregiver yourself or hire through an agency. He explained that using a registry to hire for you, or an agency that considers your helper an independent contractor, is basically the same as hiring yourself.

McNamara noted that home care is non-licensed in California and so you must “play 20 questions” when selecting an agency — questions about screening, references, bonding and insurance, tracking and much more.

He also emphasized, “It’s really, really important that you take care of yourself.” And he suggested that people purchase quality long-term care insurance for themselves so that things will be easier when their time comes.

McNamara finished by stating that, “Seniors are the leading carriers of aids,” and when the audience seemed dumfounded by this, he added “hearing aids, walking aids, Rolaids…etc.” On this laughter, he handed things over to Michael Holt.

Michael Holt
Michael Holt is a certified clinical hypnotherapist who works with seniors regularly. His presentation, “Take control of your stress,” regarded how we all allow everything around us to affect us and limit us, and he emphasized the power of saying “yes” to yourself instead of “no.”
“Your mind doesn’t process the word not,” he said. “You cannot say ‘I’m not going to have a bad day’ without having a bad day.”
He explained that everything that happens in our emotions is triggered by a thought, and there are ways to control these thoughts. He had the audience think of memories that made them feel good and noted that you can recall these memories as needed.
“Make a catalogue of memories that you can use when you want to feel a certain way,” he said. Then monitor the attitudes and emotions that occur during your life and ask yourself if these are providing you with anything good. “If not, change it. Bring back a memory.”

Judith Harris
Judith Harris then finished up the day’s presentations with “Thank God we’re miserable! Suffering in style.” In her well known humorous style, she offered a Lily Tomlin quote: “The leading cause of stress is reality.”
“Stress is not what happens, stress is the story you tell yourself about what happens,” Harris said. She explained that caregivers often feel that, “This is not the life I ordered,” which only adds to their burdens. You must accept what is and “resign as general manager of the universe.”

And you must try to find the good, and the humor, in caring for your loved one. “Humor gives us back a sense of control,” she said.

She recommended taking care of yourself as well, including keeping a list of your pleasures, your favorite smells, sounds, tastes and memories. You can treat yourself to these as a “mental health break.” She also suggested that every day you list five things you are grateful for and three good things that happened that day.

After Harris finished there were final prize drawings, more time with the vendors and ice cream.
SuzAnn Nelsen, the supportive services director at the SCV Senior Center, was the coordinator for the Caregiver’s Resource Day and explained that the event was designed to “provide people a day of relaxation and education.” She noted that the same event the previous year had helped her as she was going through the “throes of caregiving.” And even though her loved one had now passed away, this year’s event helped her in retrospect.

Cheryl Hernandez lives in Mission Hills and has just begun to be a caregiver for her mother. She came to the event to “listen to the speakers, get motivation and information.” She was the recipient of one of Avadian’s prizes, a children’s book on loved ones with memory loss entitled, “Remember Me.”

Hernandez felt the event had given her what she was looking for. “It was very informative,” she said.

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