Monday, August 23, 2004

Session focuses on
caregiving's spirituality

By Peggy O'Farrell
Enquirer staff writer

Caregivers need to focus more on the spiritual aspect of caring for loved ones while still acknowledging the stress and burden inherent in their task, a Kentucky researcher says.

What: The 16th annual Summer Symposium, a daylong series of workshops and seminars, will focus on the impact Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia have on spiritual and psychological well-being.

When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the METS Center, 3861 Olympic Blvd., Erlanger.

Cost: $100.

Registration: Lisa Hines Titus or Marlene Scholl at 721-4284.

Dr. Karen Meier Robinson, a professor of geropsychiatric nursing and mental health researcher at the University of Louisville, is one of the keynote speakers at the Alzheimer's Association's Summer Symposium Friday. The symposium is open to health care professionals, caregivers and other interested parties.

This year's symposium focuses on ways to "nurture and support the human spirit" of those affected by Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, says Clarissa Rentz, program director of the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Cincinnati.

Dr. Scott Sheperd, author of Choosing the Gift: Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One (self-published; $19.95), will also speak. The Alzheimer's Association is collaborating with the University Cincinnati's Office of Geriatric Medicine and the Ohio Valley Appalachian Region Geriatric Education Center to present the symposium.

Robinson was already researching the stress and burdens faced by caregivers when her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and her mother learned she had breast cancer. She helped care for both her parents.

"My own research had focused too much on the burden and risk of caregiving," Robinson says. "There's another side of caregiving that we ignore. I think we don't talk about finding the rewards of caregiving and the spiritual aspect of finding meaning in the experience."

Robinson found it meaningful to "be able to give back to my parents some of what they had given me."

Other caregivers she talked to for her research reported practicing more spiritual behaviors, including praying and meditating more. For others, spiritual activities could include journaling, listening to or playing music or experiencing art, she says.

As an outgrowth of her research, Robinson has helped set up a volunteer caregivers program through which volunteers are trained to "fill in" for caregivers so the caregivers can attend worship services.

"Most faith groups are older. And caregiving is about becoming more spiritual, but at the same time, the very nature of caregiving means you're going to have to drop out of your church because you can't make it," she says.

She'd like to see faith groups around the country take up the cause of providing respite for caregivers in their congregations. "It's an intervention that's easy to replicate," Robinson says.


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