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SOUL FOOD:Faith-based group needed for caregivers

March 29, 2007|By MICHÈLE MARR

Vivian Zitt recalls someone asking former First Lady Nancy Reagan how she coped while caring for her husband Ronald Reagan during his years living with Alzheimer's disease. You put one foot in front of the other and trust God, Zitt remembers the devoted wife of the former president saying.

For Zitt, who spent a similar season caring for her mother, it is a wise and pithy sum for a complex equation. But it's not without its irony.

As Zitt points out with a soft laugh, Reagan had a staff assisting her. Not so for Zitt or most family members who find themselves caring for a seriously ill or disabled loved one.

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Zitt's experience has led her to consider starting a support group for caregivers at Calvary Baptist Church, where she is a member. One of her own biggest coping strategies, she said, was to pray.

Yet as a caregiver, she also drew strength and comfort from fellow mortals. "You want someone else [to talk to] who understands where you're coming from," she said.

According to the "Caregiving in the U.S." report, which was published by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP in 2004, praying, followed by talking with friends or relatives, are the two most common means of coping with the demands caregivers shoulder.

So a faith-based group for caregivers seems like a good idea. At this point, though, few Huntington Beach churches have one.

Grace Lutheran Church is one exception. Its Orange County Care Connection Outreach — a day-care program for adults 55 or older, who are frail and in need of extra care and supervision or have mild to moderate memory impairment — also reaches out to caregivers, with services open to anyone regardless of religious affiliation.

At $45 a day, Care Connection's day-care gives caregivers a chance to take a breather from what its website calls "the physical and emotional demands of 24-hour care."

Its intentionally non-institutional day-care environment with a high staff-to-participant ratio is reassuring. The program aims to meet the functional, creative, emotional and spiritual needs of those in its care.

For caregivers, it offers consultations, referrals, training and encouragement. On the first Saturday morning of each month, it hosts a support group where caregivers can talk about theirconcerns and find solutions for difficult situations.

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