Whether taking care of a parent, spouse, child, friend or neighbor, being a caregiver can take a toll.
Carletta Cole knows this from experience as she took on the role of caregiver after her mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which was causing dementia, while she was a single mom.
“A lot of people really don’t understand until they’re in that position, what caring for an aging parent, kid with disability, traumatic brain injury, veteran, is like,” Cole said. “It’s a hard situation to be put in.”
That’s why Cole decided to create Caregiver Safe Place, an organization dedicated to giving caregivers an opportunity for some self-care and a well-deserved break.
Cole had joined 43.5 million other Americans who provide unpaid care to an adult or child, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, and having to choose between being there for her son and taking her mother with her or staying home if her mother wasn’t feeling well, she quickly began to feel the guilt and mental wear and tear associated with caregiving.
“Caregiver burnout is the most dramatic thing someone can go to,” she said, adding that it leaves you feeling fatigued and depressed among other things.
Medical experts have recognized this problem. Caregiver burnout is defined on WebMD as a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that could be accompanied by a change in attitude, such as “from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.”
Dr. Shelby Pierce, a clinical psychologist, said she agrees completely, and sees this firsthand.
“Caregiver burnout is real and is a very common occurrence,” Pierce said. “Without caregivers getting the help they need, they often begin to experience these negative feelings, which can not only be detrimental to themselves, but those they’re caring for, as well.”
Cole realized that if caregivers don’t have an outlet, they begin to forget to take care of themselves.
“I forgot the things that I really like to do because I was too busy taking care of my son and mom,” she said. “I thought, ‘If I’m doing this by myself, I know other caregivers are doing it, too.’ I want to give that back to them.”
The organization’s mission is simply to take care of caregivers for a day through a nomination process.
“I’m looking for selfless people — someone who has engulfed themselves in taking care of someone else,” Cole added.
Those who are chosen are then given a spa day, complete with facials, manicures, pedicures, and hair and wardrobe styling.
“When you make them feel good about themselves on the outside, it’s always going to convert on the inside,” Cole said, adding that it lifts their self-esteem.
Caregivers also receive a care package, specific to their hobbies, such as movie tickets or a day of golf, with a licensed caregiver to cover for them during that time.
In addition, all caregivers can access resources, such as how to sign up for in-home supportive services or tips for caring for themselves.
This past week, Cole was able to surprise a caregiver with a “Caregiver’s Day Out” at Indo Salon, where she works, for caregiver Scott Richardson.
When Scott Richardson’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, he immediately became her caregiver, no questions asked.
“It’s something that family does for each other — it’s what you’re supposed to do,” Richardson said. “That’s how my mother raised me, so when my wife was diagnosed, I had no other thoughts — a husband takes care of the family, and that’s what I did.”
Richardson took his wife to every appointment, whether it was for radiation, chemotherapy or the many check-ups in between.
His family accompanied him to the salon, where he not only was surprised with a makeover, but also a suit of his own.
“I’ve never owned a suit,” he said, adding that the closest thing he had to a suit was his uniform while in the Army.
He also received a year pass to Oak Tree Gun Club, which was presented to him by a Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station captain.
“I was a member (of Oak Tree) years ago, but when my wife got diagnosed, I couldn’t afford to keep doing it, so I’m very excited,” Richardson said, adding that he’s also excited to test out their new archery range.
In addition, he was given a nine-hole day of golf, presented by Brian McNamara and Joseph Julian Soria, actors on “Army Wives,” a show that Richardson liked.
Richardson said he never expected any recognition for something he knew he was supposed to do, and when asked how he felt, replied, “not worthy of this.”
“I was blown away by it,” he said. “It was amazing, and I appreciate everything. I think what (Cole) does is amazing. She is a caregiver herself and she understands.”
Knowing that she has created a platform that will help her reach more people is exciting, she added.
“I want to make sure everyone is touched by this,” she said.
“I was proud of how it turned out,” Cole added. “Just to see the heartfelt thank you from him, made me feel like I’m on the right path to helping more people.”
For more information about Caregiver Safe Place, visit caregiversafeplace.com.
Ways you can acknowledge the caregivers in your life
- Offer to help them out. Figure out what tasks are on their to-do lists, and see if you can lighten the load.
- Take them out. Giving them the opportunity to forget their stresses with dinner or movie can help.
- Let them vent. Give them a chance to tell you what’s on their mind.
- Make them a care package. A good smelling soap and warm bath can be therapeutic for the busiest of caregivers.
- Give them a break. Giving them a break from their duties to take a nap as sleep deprivation can lead to further problems.
- Thank them. Sometimes a simple thank you can go a long way.