Denver-area caregivers open up lives to loved ones

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Christopher Seits believes everybody is his friend, so taking a bus or other sort of public transportation would open him up to some high risk.
But that’s one thing he and his mother is working on — independence.
Independence is important, his mother Teri said.
“He’s an adult,” she said. “He needs to be treated as an adult, but some adult tasks can be challenging.”
Christopher is 23, has Down syndrome and deals with anxiety. Along with being his mom, Teri is Christopher’s Supported Living Services (SLS) provider. She supports him with specific goals such as community activities, personal care, money management and mentorship.
“I’m here to support him to be successful,” Teri said.
Teri is also a Certified Nurse’s Assistant (CNA) for her adopted 8-year-old daughter, Suzi, who has Down syndrome.
Caring for her two children takes up a lot of time, but Teri says she wouldn’t have it any other way. She described caregiving as a blessing.
“Caregiving allows me to be the primary care provider for the ones I love the most,” she said.
A caregiver is “someone who gives up their entire life for a loved one,” said Karen Hafling, founder of Stuck in the Middle, a social support group for caregivers. A caregiver is “someone who is totally self-sacrificing.”
There are two categories of caregivers: families and professionals, said Pamela Wilson. She is a Denver-area caregiving educator and professional with The Care Navigator — a Lakewood-based company that helps people manage care — and author of “The Caregiving Trap: Solutions For Life’s Unexpected Changes.”
Families can provide that one-on-one family contact, Wilson said. But there are limitations on what families can do.
Some families view seeking outside help as negative, she said, but it can be a positive thing for both the primary caregiver and the recipient.
First, she said, bringing in another caregiver can give the primary caregiver a much needed break, and it can help the person being care for by providing exposure and socialization outside of the family.
But it’s not only the care recipient that benefits from socialization, Hafling said.
Caregivers can become isolated and invisible, she said. People will always ask how the person receiving the care is doing, but often people will fail to ask how the caregiver is holding up.
Being part of a group, such as the Arvada-founded Stuck in the Middle, gives a caregiver the opportunity to socialize, vent, get hugs and ask questions, said Nita Simpson, who attends Stuck in the Middle’s weekly meetings.
“A two-hour visit here is like a vacation,” Simpson said.
Fellow attendees Cindy Acierno and Mary Lopez agree. People need to talk to other people, they said.
“They need to know they’re not the only one traveling down that road,” Lopez said.
Caregivers may have neighbors or coworkers to talk to, Simpson said, but a caregiver group provides a common ground. Everyone in the group truly understand what each person is going through.
In the group, you can “really spill your guts,” Hafling said.
It’s also important for everybody to know there are resources out there, said attendee Peg Kroeker.
“When a person in the community is in a bind, there is help available,” she said. “People need something for themselves sometimes.”
Caregivers focus on two things — tasks and relationship, Wilson said. Tasks are all the physical things such as cooking, cleaning and reminding the loved one to take medicine.
“The relationship part is the memories,” she said.
Wilson suggests caregivers to focus on the relationship, and get help with tasks. For example, Wilson said, hire outside help or split the tasks up among family members.
Dianne Donelson’s father’s wish was to die on the family farm, which the family was able to fulfill, she said.
But the one thing he always wanted was a red convertible, Donelson said, who works at Jeffco Adult Protection Services, a division of the Jefferson County Human Services department.
His grandchildren got together and rented him one. He drove all around his Iowa town in that red convertible, wearing his cowboy hat, Donelson said.
Often, people overlook the rewards of caregiving, Donelson said. For her, it was being able to spend eight extra weeks with her dad.
“There can be days that are very difficult,” Donelson said, “but there will also be a lot of cherished moments.”

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