Guest: Stephanie Erickson
Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest Bio: Stephanie Erickson, Director of Erickson Resource Group, is a clinical social worker and Director and Founder of Erickson Resource Group based in Montreal, Quebec. She has over 20 years of experience as a geriatric social worker. She has worked with seniors living autonomously at home, placed in care facilities, at the hospital, and who are living with family.
Segment overview: In today’s Health Supplier Segment, Stephanie Erickson, MSW, LCSW, and author of the upcoming book, “Aging by Design”, shares some helpful strategies for improving the caregivers’ experience.
Health Professional Radio
Neal Howard: Hello and welcome to Health Professional Radio. Thank you so much for joining us today. The number of family caregivers has tripled since 1994 and upwards of 65 Million Americans have served as well “unpaid caregivers.” As the population ages, we’re all going to be caregivers for a family member at some point and another. It’s very, very possible that to some extent we will be giving care to one of our family members. Our guest in studio today is Stephanie Erickson she’s is the author of the upcoming book “Aging by Design.” A licensed clinical social worker and she also runs the Erickson Resource Group. And she’s here today to talk with us about changing the mindset of those of us who are caregivers – how we can enhance the caregiver’s experience. We mostly focus on the person’s who’s being cared for, making sure that their needs are taking care of – but what about the caregivers themselves? How do we address some of the problems that they face? How are you doing this afternoon Stephanie?
Stephanie Erickson: I’m great, thank you for having me.
N: Thanks so much for returning. How much do you focus on the experience of the caregiver?
S: Well I think it’s equally important. I think that all caregivers are the unsung heroes of any situation. Most of the information that is available out there is about disease and illness. I mean after all we are a disease based society. We focus on what is wrong and what pill do we have to take to alleviate whatever that illness may be.
N: Uh huh.
S: And I think that there is no attention, not no but limited attention on caregivers. And unfortunately not as many resources as we would need as well to help the caregivers cope.
N: Now many folks that are caregivers are in the medical profession already. They’ve got experience dealing with patients. When it comes to those of us who aren’t doctors or nurses or specialists or like yourself a family caregiving expert. We’re just someone who woke up one day and we’re dealing with a dad who had a stroke or we’re dealing with uncle Bob who’s experiencing Alzheimer’s. What types of training is available for us?
S: Well I think there is training available particularly for those who are caring for someone who has dementia or a form of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association and the different chapters regionally across the country have educational courses to help people understand the signs and symptoms and use some tricks and tips in order to manage some of those more challenging symptoms. Unfortunately what I think happens is most of the time people enter into those classes and training a little bit too late. Believe me that’s better than never, because absolutely it can help. But there is not a lot of pre-education because we don’t run out and take a course on dementia unless we have to so it’s kind of like you’re learning a bit after the fact.
N: You’re the author of an upcoming book “Aging by Design.” The title suggests that there is some precautions, some preparation, a little bit of a forethought as you age personally and as family members see you age. When it comes to Aging by Design, are we talking about changing the environment that the person is going to be in or are we talking about changing the way that they eat or are we talking about designing a brand new life for them?
S: Yeah, it’s more about looking at aging in a holistic way.
N: Uh huh.
S: And designing our aging experience to meet our own needs, our own value systems, our own expectations.
S: So if we look at a person as a holistic being, there is a physical piece of us, a spiritual pieces of us, a psychological peace, emotional need, emotional peace and then of course those practical things like where you’re gonna live. We are a whole being and so to Age by Design is to take into a care all of those pieces of us. And to communicate what our needs are and what our expectations are about how we want to live in each of those spheres that makes up who we are. And communicate that to our family to ensure that they’re supporting us in all of those ways or at least getting someone to support us in all those ways.
N: In your experience dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia, has there ever been a case where one or more of the aspects of our personality or our existence that you just spoke of becomes absolutely non important to the patient? Do you adjust your caregiving or do you continue to deal with the person as if they are just as concerned about their spiritual self today as they were 6 months ago?
S: That’s a very interesting question. I mean I think it’s gonna be very individualized. But let’s take for example a spiritual need and we’ll take a person who was religiously going to mass every single Sunday. And then at some point was is less interested in doing that or perhaps was limited physically in doing that.
N: Uh huh.
S: Often times family will say it to me “Oh my dad was very religious. He would attend mass etc.” And I would say “Well what are you doing to provide for those needs now?” And they will say something like “Well my dad won’t asking for it or perhaps my dad is cognitively out of place or he couldn’t benefit. He wouldn’t even know if the priest came to the home anyway.” What I always would suggested is, “That is still who your dad is. That’s always who he’s been, we need to continue to support that area because even if your dad doesn’t recognize the priest is there, there is some piece of him that will benefit from the priest’s attention, perhaps giving communion, whatever the blessing whatever a priest might do.”
N: Uh huh.
S: “That there will be that spiritual part of your dad that will benefit from that. And you as a family will know that you’re still reinforcing a big piece of who he has always been.”
N: Now this month November is “National Family Caregivers Month.” And it’s also the month right in the middle of the holiday season – Halloween kicking it off and New Year’s. I guess New Year’s Day bringing it all to an end and we get ready for tax time again. As the holidays approach, family is not only giving care, but they’re planning to get together, they’re planning for people to come over, things of that nature. How much of a change or an adjustment needs to be made in the mindset of the caregiver when it comes to taking care of the holidays that surround the person that they’re taking care of?
S: Yeah, I mean we need to be sensitive to what a person can tolerate because depending on what challenges that someone is faced with as they’re aging – loud noises, large crowd -these things can be disturbing and uncomfortable for someone. So I think as the caregiver, you want to do what you want for the holidays, you want it to be like it used to be. I think as a caregiver we need to evaluate what it is that will help them to experience during the holidays, minimize our expectations, and just try to realistically look at what it is that our loved one can participate in and cannot participate in based on his or her difficulties or challenges. And then make those adjustments so include the person to how they’re capable but still allowing for the caregiver needs to also be met where they feel like they have, a happy holiday time where family’s included and such.
N: Now Stephanie wrapping up I’d like to ask you about calling in professional help. You’ve been caring for mom, dad or uncle bob for, I don’t know maybe a year now and they haven’t really had medical needs. But there comes a time when not necessarily they need to be admitted to the hospital but they’re saying things or doing things that you just can’t deal with. When is it the time to call in someone to give you some advice, give you some help or give you a break?
S: Well I think the time to ask for advice is before there is ever a problem.
S: So talking those kind of educational courses or trying a geriatric care manager to just come over, meet your loved one and have a discussion about what’s going on so you have someone to check in with over time and analyze the changes overtime. So then if there comes a point where you’re seeing I think I’m starting to burn out, you already have a resource, you already have a connection and you can call in the troops quicker to get yourself some assistance. Because if the caregiver, you get ill there will be no one to take care of your loved one so we want to prevent that as much as possible. And actually start thinking about maybe one day needing assistance and starting to have discussions before there is a problem.
N: You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard. And we’ve been in studio today talking with Stephanie Erickson, the author of the upcoming book “Aging by Design.” Stephanie is a licensed Clinical Social Worker, a Family Caregiving Expert, a radio Host and a Speaker and she earned her Master’s degree in Social Work in 1995 and began working with family caregivers. She’s got 20 years of experience as a Social Worker and has guided literally thousands of families through the complex process of making caregiving decisions for family members. She also runs the Erickson Resource Group, a clinical practice focused on elder care. Hosting her own radio program as I said the Caregiver Circle on WebTalkRadio and is a regular radio and television guest throughout the United States and Canada. And she’s been here today talking with us about taking care of the needs of the caregiver, since the caregiver is going to be the one who’s well giving care and making decisions for someone who is experiencing Alzheimer’s, dementia or just going through the process of aging in general. It is very, very crucial that we as caregivers take care of ourselves and our needs, in order to maximize our caregiving experiences well. And basically do the best that we can for our loved one. It’s been great having you here with us today Stephanie.
S: Thank you, anytime Neal.
N: Transcript and audio of this program are available at healthprofessionalradio.com.au and also at hpr.fm and you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.