Support program a relief for caregivers

By 
  • December 2, 2007

{mosimage}TORONTO - Elizabeth Diachun wanted to rest assured that her husband Jerry, who has Alzheimer’s, wasn’t going to wander off and hurt himself so she called on a respite worker from Saint Elizabeth Health Care.

“One day I just called and said ‘I have to get some sleep. I am completely exhausted.’ That night they sent someone and I had a night’s sleep. It was wonderful,” said Diachun, 76, who’s been married to her 80-year-old husband for 58 years.

The Saint Elizabeth Health Care Foundation has supplied 20,000 free hours of relief to caregivers like Diachun and has distributed more than 200,000 free caregiver books nationally in the past 10 years through its Caregiver Support Program.

It’s a full-time job for the family and friends who give care.

{sidebar id=1} “They can’t leave the home so they are tied to the home 24 hours a day,” said Pat Malone, corporate integrity officer for charitable programs with Saint Elizabeth Health Care. She’s helped develop the Caregiver Support program.

It has recently expanded its program, launching a CD called YourSide Caregiver Support to make information more accessible, especially for the homebound. The CD helps caregivers learn how to manage appointments, nutrition, safety in the home, how to keep track of physician appointments and other community support services. It’s easy to use especially for people who are not very computer literate, said Malone.

“The whole focus of the program is to try and empower the people in the family to have more control over their lives,” said Malone.

The Caregiver Program supports family and friends looking after children, people with terminal illnesses or a degenerative illness like multiple sclerosis. However, the majority of clients it serves are family members caring for elderly parents or their elderly spouse like the Diachuns.

As Jerry Diachun’s Alzheimer’s worsened over a 10-year span, his wife called on the respite workers for one or two hours regularly so she could go shopping or do some banking. When the disease debilitated him to the point where he fell out of bed 12 times in one month and started to urinate in anything that looked like a container, she placed her husband in the Golden Plough nursing home in Cobourg, Ont., last year.

“He wasn’t able to stand or walk. It wasn’t possible for me to help because (he was a) dead weight. It’s too bad that we had to do that, but we didn’t have a choice,” she said.

Diachun drives 40 minutes each way to visit her husband five times a week. Despite his memory loss he still remembers his wife.

“He says, ‘Honey I’m so happy to see you.’ He still remembers me.”

Without respite care Diachun wouldn’t have been able to keep her husband at home for as long as she did.

“They are so wonderful with these people. They know how to treat them. They know how to deal with them and I learned a lot from them.”

Next year Saint Elizabeth Health Care celebrates its centennial anniversary.

“We would be looking to expand the program depending on fund-raising success next year,” said Malone.

One of the fund-raising events will include a gala at the Royal Ontario Museum Oct. 4 with all proceeds going toward the Caregiver Support Program.

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