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The art of caregiving often has guilt as its constant companion.  At Leeza’s Place we give caregivers permission to feel whatever they are experiencing and then we give them a strategy, an approach, a shoulder to cry on, a heart to lean on and the faith that they will make it through.  We know that caregivers often experience so many stress related challenges that they often get sick and die before the ones for whom they care.  Compassionate fatigue is a very real syndrome and we have seen caregivers afraid and frazzled down to their last nerves.  We say you should “Take your oxygen first”, meaning nourish yourself, keep your body strong, take a break, forgive, forgive, forgive…and that is the first step towards caring for your loved one.

Mentors and “befrienders” are not so secret weapons in the army of caregivers at Leeza’s Place.  Families who have walked the path before you, are uniquely qualified to have the sensitivity, the experience and to know the resources that can help another.  Once you’ve become a part of the Leeza’s Place community, you’re there.  You’re a part of the family and that includes whether your loved one dies, goes into a skilled nursing setting or whatever…a blanket of support extends in different directions to accommodate whatever reality life throws at you.

Scrapbooking has been one of our core curriculums from the beginning.  It was designed for people with memory disorders.  But as we began to do it with our guests, we realized it is an empowering process for everyone involved, caregivers, their diagnosed loves ones, the young and the old.  When we take the time to elevate a memory and put it on a page, to write the words of those experiences and feelings, we validate their importance and we cherish those memories over and over.  People with memory loss may have trouble remembering yesterday, but when they look at a photograph from 30, 40 or 50 years ago, they can recall every nuance of the scene.

I do believe in early diagnosis for any health challenge.  An unnamed enemy has way more power over you than naming it, claiming it and building a plan to deal with the new reality.  The fact is with Alzheimer’s disease, the sooner you know, the more effective you can be in planning for your care, the more sane the process will be for your caregivers or loved ones and the more effective the meds are.  The existing medications work best in the early stages.  You are also more likely to be appropriate for research studies.

Again, my advice to get diagnosed early comes from my mother’s example.  Even though we should have been more educated as a family, we were in a state of denial.  It was my mother who gathered us together to show us that she had paid the same household bill three times.  She said, “Something is wrong.”  After she was officially diagnosed, mom was relieved to have a reason behind her behavior.  She shared her diagnosis with her friends and the expectation level was lowered.  So I feel that for those with the disease, it may be more comforting to know that you don’t have to compete at such a high level.  This is an individual call.  Yes, there were some friends who faded away either out of fear or frustration, but there were so many people who offered steadfast love throughout my mother’s decline.  They will forever boost my faith.

It’s no secret that we are almost phobic about aging in our culture.  Add to that people who need some sort of support like wheelchairs, crutches, canes and we often find barriers to relationships…

We do something I love at Leeza’s Place called Memory Television.  We invite our guests to gather together mementos, souvenirs and other items that are reflective of who they are as a family.  It can be anything from a college letter sweater to a Batmizfa invitation, old photographs and record albums and we help them build a set, almost like a TV talk show environment surrounded by these depictions of their lives.  Then family members gather together from the littlest to the most senior members and interview each other about their lives.  We found that we become so busy immersed in the process of day to day that we often forget to tell our stories.  That’s what memory television is all about.  Seniors talking about the old days, a family farm, a first business, immigrating to America perhaps…it’s a chance for the younger members of the family to ask questions in an environment that is safe and supportive.  “Why didn’t you tell me you were sick?”  “Why did we move?”  And in the end it’s almost like group therapy.

Leeza Gibbons

Last Modified May 24, 2009 @ 7:15 pm
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