By Patty Schaller
There are more than 65 million people caring for loved ones in this country. These are not medical professionals or paid caregivers, but ordinary people who see to the daily needs of Alzheimer’s, cancer, and Parkinson’s patients, and others who are going through a health crisis in their own home. The patients may be parents, children, siblings, or spouses, but the common denominator is the caregiver who quietly gives of themselves.
What does the caregiver do when the burden becomes too heavy? When their duties to a loved one, combined with childcare, jobs, and household and social obligations just pull the strings too tightly and they are in danger of snapping? To whom do they turn for help?
Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank now offers a program that has the answer. It’s called Leeza’s Care Connection, and its purpose is to make sure family caregivers have a place to come for comfort, education, referrals, and support. It is free of charge.
According to Stefanie Elkins, Program and Outreach Director, Leeza’s Care Connection is the signature program of the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation who in partnership with Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center opened this oasis for caregivers in July 2012 after moving from Sherman Oaks. Talk show host, author, and entrepreneur Leeza Gibbons established her foundation as a promise to her mother, an Alzheimer’s patient, to “tell her story and make it count.”
“We are creating something authentic and genuine here,” Elkins says. “We honor family members who are caregivers; who we consider true heroes as they give of themselves 24/7 to care for someone they love. We teach them how to prepare for their new life and call upon their courage, hence our motto of ‘Summon your Strength.’”
Walking into the organization’s cheery living room setting, family caregivers are treated as a guest, not a patient. Feeling at home, families are more relaxed and prepared to learn the importance of holding onto their own health while caring for someone they love.
Some of the programs offered are resource referrals, health and wellness programs, and care-giving workshops that are designed to teach caregivers how to take care of themselves, reduce stress, communicate more effectively, and cope with many emotions. They also learn to set goals and problem-solve.
Other programs offered are to empower and energize family members. They offer a book discussion group, journaling class, yoga, support groups for all ages, and bereavement groups too. A weekly scrapbooking workshop for caregivers and their loved ones provides the opportunity to relive cherished memories.
For Spanish speakers, Nadia Cantuña, Program and Outreach Assistant Director, offers a program on Saturdays.
“The most difficult thing for a caregiver is taking that first step. We let them know that it’s OK to make that call, to ask for help. Some people feel very isolated and get stuck in their own grief and guilt. We help families so that they don’t have to reach that breaking point and take their frustrations out on others. Slowly they learn not to get angry at themselves for ‘not getting things right.’ Diseases like that are a private family matter, and Latinos don’t like to share, but this disease doesn’t discriminate.”
For more information call (818) 847-3686, for Spanish speakers call (818) 847-3728, or visit leezascareconnection.org.