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Advice to caregivers: care for yourself

Social workers from Wellness House, St. Thomas Hospice share counsel at poetry reading

Series: Redefining Aging | Story 14

Last updated 11/20/2019 at 5:13pm | View PDF

Jim Slonoff

Ellen Nieman of Wellness House and Cassandra Waliczek of St. Thomas Hospice highlighted the importance of caring for caregivers at a special event last week at the Hinsdale Public Library. Hinsdale native Caroline Muller Johnson (not pictured) read from her collection of poems about caregiving.

Caregiving requires individuals to employ a number of skills in a variety of roles - and to do so with a great degree of flexibility.

"In many ways caregiving requires that you become ready for anything," said Ellen Nieman, an oncology social work navigator at Wellness House in Hinsdale.

She and Cassandra Waliczek, a licensed clinical social worker with Amita Adventist St. Thomas Hospice, discussed the topic Nov. 13 at the Hinsdale Public Library. The Poetry of Caregiving program featured Caroline Johnson (profiled in the Nov. 7 issue) reading several poems from her collection, "The Caregiver."

Wellness House and St. Thomas Hospice believe it's important to offer care for the caregiver as well as the patient, Nieman and Waliczek said.

"We include caregivers in our work because we recognize what an emotional roller coaster (it is) and what an impact it has on someone's life," Nieman said.

Caregivers manage many tasks, including caring for the actual patient, dealing with doctors and insurance companies, and scheduling home care, all while facing the other demands and stresses of life, she noted.

"One person or one family can't always provide all of the care for the loved one as they are navigating their treatment," Nieman said.

Most of the programs Wellness House offers are open to both cancer patients and their caregivers. Among the agency's programs are classes and lectures to provide more information about particular diagnoses.

Education is important, Waliczek said. One of the roles of the hospice care team is to help familiarize the caregiver with the patient's illness and help them understand what to expect. Hospice workers can help a caregiver recognize symptoms of decline in a patient nearing the end of life.

"If you're never been through this, it really can be a moment of panic," Waliczek said.

Hospice volunteers provide respite for caregivers so they can run errands, read a book or take a nap to recharge. Caregiving is demanding work, she said, and people need to be at their best physically and mentally in order to do it.

"I also encourage caregivers and family members to talk to as many friends and family as they are able to," she said. "A lot of times, in this situation, you can become very isolated."

Support groups at Wellness House offer caregivers a safe place to share their frustrations.

"People can come in and say, 'This is hard. I don't feel like myself. My loved one is not the person I knew or the person I married or the parent I knew before,' " Nieman said.

She said she likes to use a cellphone battery analogy when talking about self care.

"You can probably watch the battery tick down through the day as you use it," she said.

The battery might be draining faster because of programs running in the background.

"What are the things that are running in my life right now?" she said. "How do I shut those things down when I need to or re-energize myself or plug myself in when I need to?"

Caregivers who have support from family and friends are more likely to appreciate the time they have with the individual in their care.

"Becoming a caregiver for your loved one can be a very stressful time but also a very meaningful time," Waliczek said. "There are so many patients that I have that are just making me laugh every day and are in such high spirits given the situation. I love what I do."

Author Bio

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 630-323-4422, ext. 104


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