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Caregivers: take care of yourself too

Anyone who has experienced the role of a caregiver understands the rewards and challenges of this vital work. Helping aging parents stay in their homes, relieving the struggles of illness, easing pain and loneliness are all worthy endeavors. But studies also tell us that family/friend caregivers, known as “informal” caregivers, can struggle with depression, burnout, poverty, and their own illnesses.
For 17 years, Stefanie Small, LCSW and currently Director of JFCS Senior and Counseling Services, has been the facilitator of a monthly Caregiver Support Group. Affiliated with the Alzheimers Association, this gathering is a place to share tips and resources, and its participants offer each other camaraderie and moral support.
Stefanie says the majority of the up to a dozen attendees are caring for spouses, some coping with dementia. Others care for parents.
“Caregiving is hard work that engenders a lot of feelings,” she says. “The people who come here need education and resources. And it’s a completely confidential judgment-free zone where people can speak freely. It’s been said many times, but caregivers really must take care of themselves first, or they will be of little use to anyone else.”
Many of us would willingly care for spouses or parents, the people we love most in the world. But after an EMS crew found one group member’s husband with dementia wandering the neighborhood several times, she realized that her husband’s care needs surpassed her ability. She needed the group’s support to realize that placing him in a facility was the best choice for him.

As the nation ages, the number of people who need care is projected to rise to 117 million in just the next few years. Clearly, caregiving is a critical national issue.

Stefanie Small
Hopefully, the growing numbers will turn out to be a good thing, providing incentive to create new models of care at home and in professional facilities, resolve some of the financial burdens, and recognize the value of providing more respite care for caregivers. Meanwhile, says Stefanie, “there’s nothing so precious as being in a room full of people who get it.”
The Caregiver Support Group meets on the 3rd Thursday of every month at JFCS in Squirrel Hill. There is no charge to attend. If you are a caregiver and would like to attend, please call Stefanie at 412-422-7200, or email her at ssmall@jfcspgh.org.