Caregivers learn to take care of themselves |

Caregivers learn to take care of themselves

Michelle Balleck

Roxanna Webb has been taking care of her husband since he became disabled in 1988. Ten years later, he was diagnosed with dementia.

“It’s hard because he feels like less of a man,” she said. “He can’t support his family.”

Being a 24-hour caregiver takes its toll on her too. That’s why she attended the Savvy Caregiving Techniques at Sandrock Ridge Care and Rehab Saturday.

“To me, this is my year of accepting it and doing things to help me,” Webb said. “It’s just learning how to deal with it and cope with it. That’s why I’m here.”

And that’s why Annie Smyth, the Alzheimer’s Association’s regional director, came to Craig to teach the course.

“What we’re doing today is teaching people how to handle the daily stress of being a caretaker,” she said.

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She travels to facilities throughaout her nine-county Western Slope region presenting the information and helping caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementia take time for themselves.

“You need to do what you enjoy so you have a good quality of life too,” Smyth said to the group, made up entirely of women.

This is not uncommon, she said, because 70 percent of caregivers are female. They are typically an older population as well.

“The No. 1 risk for Alzheimer’s is age,” Smyth said.

Half of people over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s or related dementia, but she said diet, exercise and lifetime learning habits can help lessen the disease’s symptoms.

“It’s not a cure, but there’s a link,” she said.

That’s why activities like playing an instrument, taking up needlework or dancing can be so helpful in keeping the brain functioning well.

“A perfectly healthy 80-year-old with Alzheimer’s disease could live to be 100, very slowly progressing,” Smyth said.

And families of patients realize how important caring for their loved one at home is for their condition.

“Keeping them in an environment that they are comfortable in certainly helps slow the disease,” Smyth said.

But caring for another person can be draining, which is why meetings like the one Saturday are essential.

“The support of others is crucial,” she said. “You cannot do it alone.”

Regina Grinolds, a case manager for Northwest Colorado Options for Long Term Care, understands that, and started a caregiver support group last fall.

The group meets the third Saturday of every month at 2 p.m. at Sandrock Ridge.

She also led an 8-hour dementia course for Sandrock staff members.

“If they go through trainings like this,” Smyth said, “it enhances their job.”

It’s important to care for the person with the illness, she said, but the caregivers need to make sure they are taking care of themselves too.

“They promised they would never place them in a nursing home,” she said. “They’re going to do this if it kills them, and sometimes it does.”

The Alzheimer’s Association and local organizers are looking for donations and volunteers.

For more information, call Grinolds at 824-3985, visit or call 1-800-272-3900, a national help line with counselors accepting calls 24 hours a day.

Michelle Perry may be reached at 824-7031 or

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