The universal occupation |

The universal occupation

OK, pop quiz: What occupation might you or someone in your family take up one day? Hint: If you get into this line of work yourself, you are going to be one tired puppy. Plus, there’s no pay, lousy hours, usually no training, little support and the benefits are invisible.

Why do it? It’s probably a case of love given and love returned, for this occupation is caregiver – taking care of someone, usually a family member, who is ill, disabled, frail or otherwise in need of help when it comes to daily life. Your job description may include grocery shopping, cooking, driving, giving meds, handling finances and helping someone eat, shower and dress.

If the person has dementia or a brain injury, the job is harder and full of surprises. I was once taking care of a friend with an injured brain and had to move fast when she started eating the salt shaker on her dinner tray. So the job keeps you on your toes and it can also keep you on your feet. A recent survey in California indicated caretakers of brain-impaired people put in an 89-hour week.

Now I know how corny it is to call a group of people angels – but the professional eldercare people who help family caretakers are heavenly critters in my book. This spring Sierra Nevada Home Care and Del Oro Caregiver’s Resource Center are offering seven free Monday classes from April 5 through May 17. It’s an information-dense series – thank goodness – for who of us has taken classes in caregiving?

Some of the subjects: Learning effective communication techniques when dealing with challenging behaviors; understanding brains altered by strokes and dementia; learning about nutrition for the elderly and about dealing with incontinence; becoming familiar with valuable resources for caregivers; getting the skinny on legal and financial planning and health care directives; learning safe transfer techniques, meaning helping frail people get up and down without throwing out your back; and – this one is vital – taking care of yourself. (The idea here: If you don’t have your own oxygen mask on, you can’t help others.)

The seven Monday classes will run from April 5 through May 17, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., snacks provided. The place: Sierra Nevada Home Care, Brighton Greens Center at 1020 McCourtney Road, Suite A, Grass Valley. Easy to find, lots of parking. Register early as there are only spaces for 15 people. To register, call the Del Oro Caregiver Resource Center at (800) 635-0220. If respite care is needed for your loved one, let them know when you call. (Note: this series is not for professional caregivers, but for unpaid volunteers doing it on their own.)

Surf on over to, the online home of Family Caregiver Alliance. They are a great resource, offering tips, fact sheets, information about clinical trials, inspiration, personal stories and support groups. Also, call Helpline at (530) 273-2273 and ask about local support groups and services.

As for books, the most read and positively-reviewed caregiving book on Amazon is “Elder Rage” by Jacqueline Marcell and Rodman Shankle. I haven’t read it, but will read Gail Sheehy’s forthcoming book, “Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence,” in the stores May 4.

I end with a story about my baby-sitting mother-in-law’s experience as a family caregiver when I was in the hospital having my fourth child. After days of caring for my three very young sons – she phoned me in my hospital room with a three-word question:

Where’s the gin?

Mel Walsh is a gerontologist, author and columnist. Her book, “Hot Granny,” is available at The Book Seller in Grass Valley. Visit Mel at

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