Individuals dealing with Alzheimer’s disease or other life changing illnesses often feel most comfortable at home.

Their caregivers, often spouses or children, may give whatever care their loved one needs, but can find themselves overwhelmed, unsure, and at risk for depression and other health problems themselves.

When Jerry (Jerome), Ethel Noble’s husband of 55 years, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about four years ago, she felt overwhelmed and frustrated as she saw her spousal role expand to that of caregiver. After a few months, she learned of a caregiver support group at the Catholic Charities Adult Care Center in New Berlin.

“The group was so helpful to me, and I met new friends who were going through similar situations,” she said, bemoaning the fact the group moved to 60th Street and Lloyd Street, Milwaukee, a destination too far away for Noble.

Heartbroken about losing her support group, Noble, a member of Holy Apostles Parish in New Berlin, contacted her pastor, Fr. Donald Thimm, to see if he could spare a room for the monthly Catholic Charities Caregiver Support group to relocate.

“He said, ‘Yes,’ right away and that is how we got started here,” she said. “I go to Mass here every morning, so it was easy for me to come back for the group.”

Despite the easy access to the Wednesday afternoon meetings, Noble said attendance has been down the past few months, and she hopes more people will take notice and come for support and friendship.

“Without this group, I would be at home moping around,” she said. “I think it is a great place to vent and complain. Sure, you can talk to your kids or other people, but unless they are going through something similar, they will not understand. In addition to the group, Fr. Don is so good with all of the seniors here and it’s good to have him for ongoing support.”

Annette Jankowski, support group director of adult day services, said the group allows caregivers to receive support and share stories and ideas.

“It is so important for our caregivers to know they are not alone and can come to a safe haven and talk or listen,” she said. “We try to provide resources and educational information that may help. Hearing how other families cope with similar problems lightens the load.”

If you want to go:

There are two locations for
caregiver support groups

Holy Apostles Catholic Parish
Parish Center
16000 W. National Avenue,
Room 172
New Berlin, 53151
Meets every second
Wednesday, 3 to 4:30 p.m.

Catholic Charities
Adult Day Center
1919 N. 60th Street
Milwaukee, 53208
Meets every third Wednesday,
3 to 4:30 p.m.

For more information, contact:
Annette Jankowski
(414) 771-2881, Ext. 4162

Whether being present for each other, or offering concrete ideas to assist the caregiver in day-to-day activities, Jankowski said the group setting is an important facet of the caregivers’ role.

“They can develop a shared camaraderie with others, generate new ideas, thoughts and problem solving ideas,” she said. “It is a safe haven and no question is not pertinent. We are also able to educate, share and provide tips and resources for help, and they are able to unburden without consequences.”

Because many caregivers suffer emotional and physical burnout, Jankowski said adult day care helps avoid these situations.

“Most important is for caregivers to take care of themselves so they can take care of their loved ones,” said Jankowski.

“Adult day care is a huge part of minimizing burnout. Catholic Charities has an adult day care open Mondays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Milwaukee, which provides activities focused on staying alert and active. Our staff (members) are certified nursing assistants and can also provide assistance with daily living needs as well as bathing services. We also have (a registered nurse) on staff. Having your loved one involved in an adult day care program allows the caregiver to continue doing (his or her) own day to day activities and work.”

When a loved one has Alzheimer’s or other disability, the symptoms often begin slowly and the caregiver might not recognize their new role until they have become overburdened. Jankowski explained the first step is recognizing one is not alone but in need of support. Perhaps there are family members who can lend a helping hand, and, if not, the support group and adult day care services will help in minimizing stress before it becomes a crisis situation.

The Catholic Charities Caregiver Support group’s mission is to serve and when caregivers inquire about the adult day care, they offer time to meet with the family and offer to help solve problems in caring for loved ones.

Their faith-filled compassion helps caregivers such as Noble live a life not only centered on caring for a loved one, but assists her in learning to navigate personal time for Mass, spending time with her four children and four grandchildren, as well as the occasional trip.

“I took a trip to my granddaughter’s school in Portland, and my nurse daughter came to care for my husband. She told me to get on a plane and forget this place,” she said. “It is very important to get away to save your sanity.”

Another way Noble copes is through her strong faith, and she cannot understand how others can survive such a difficult life event without faith.

“Do you know the old saying that God never gives you a cross that you can’t carry?” she questioned. “Well, there are days I do say, ‘Lord, I am stumbling a bit – can you help me carry it a little more?’ This group really helps me. We can share care giving skills and things we do at home to make things easier.”