Balancing the Dementia Journey While Keeping Yourself Healthy
by Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director – United Way of Charlotte County
As a caregiver to my mother-in-law who has Alzheimer’s Disease, every day is different. Some mornings are more challenging than others. Some nights are long, exhausting and heartbreaking. We are thankful to have my mother-in-law safe in our home and to share these days with her. Still, it can be overwhelming managing such an unpredictable disease. The more we learn about Alzheimer’s Disease, the more we realize how much we still don’t know. That’s why learning how to be a healthy caregiver is so important.
Beginning Sept. 13, the Dubin Center in partnership with Ageless United (United Way of Charlotte County) and the Shady Rest Institute on Positive Aging, will offer a free 6-week course for caregivers of people living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related disease - the Savvy Caregiver Training Program. Savvy Caregiver is an evidence-based training providing participants with a solution-focused approach to caring for loved ones. The program includes instruction conducted by a social worker, in-class activities and discussion, and try-it-at-home ideas for caregivers to practice strategies learned.
When the Dubin Center reached out to United Way of Charlotte County (UWCC), I was struck by the need for caregiver education in our communities. There are an estimated 80,000 people in southwest Florida living with a dementia related disorder, according to the Dubin Center. In Charlotte County, 9,000 residents over 65 have probable Alzheimer’s, which represents 70% of all dementias. Many live with spouses or family. In fact, I was surprised to learn 83 percent of dementia care happens in the home.
Lynne Thorp, Executive Director of the Dubin Center, said many caregivers already have knowledge about the disease itself but find themselves having a difficult time managing the behavioral, physical, and emotional challenges that come along with dementia-related conditions.
Savvy Caregiver offers more than information and statistics, the program offers practical real-life strategies. Participants are guided through the stages of dementia. They are given tools to provide structure and support in the home, which is key to minimizing confusion.
One Savvy Caregiver graduate said, "My wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in November 2018, but she displayed symptoms years before and I recognized them. I had to feel my way as a spouse and said caregiver, and I didn’t always get it right. The SAVVY course was right on the money for me. I wish I had taken it a year, or two, or three earlier.”
Another participant shared, “This class was very helpful in identifying problems, establishing some guidelines and providing helpful solutions to caregiving. Also, it mostly provided a wonderful support network.”
As a caregiver myself, I know how important support can be. It is a privilege for UWCC to partner with the Dubin Center to provide encouragement, education, and resources to help those giving so much of themselves to care for those impacted by Alzheimer’s. It can be a lonely and difficult journey, but the more we know about the disease, the better we can support each other. If you are a caregiver, I encourage you to learn more about this course and seek available resources. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Thankfully, you don’t have to manage it alone.
Savvy Caregiver will be offered from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays Sept. 13 through Oct. 18 at the Family Services Center, 21500 Gibralter Dr., conference room 151, Port Charlotte. To register, contact the Dubin Center at (239) 437-3007.
For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission: Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.