Support Group Helps Employees Balance Work With Caring for Loved Ones
When Armando Vargas made the difficult decision to move his mother into an assisted living facility, it became challenging to leave his personal life at the door when he went to work.
Then an associate accountant in The University of Arizona's Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, Vargas often had to leave work for hours at a time during the day to take his 80-year-old mother to medical appointments when she couldn't drive herself. And while his supervisor showed understanding, Vargas said that when he took time off during the week, "there was still 40 hours of work" to be done.
"By the time I got back to work, I was washed out," he said.
As he struggled to balance his work and personal life, Vargas turned to the UA Caregiver Support Group for help.
A program of Life & Work Connections, the support group brings together campus employees who are responsible for the well-being of an elderly loved one.
For Vargas, the group provides a comfortable setting to share concerns and questions with people in similar situations.
"It's like having a new family. The common thread is that we all have someone to take care of, either at home or in a care home," he said. "It's good to know we're not alone."
Created last spring, the Caregiver Support Group offers "practical and emotional support" to individuals responsible for the health of a parent or loved one who can no longer live independently, said Jan Sturges, caregiving coordinator for Life & Work Connections.
The group meets twice a month and is open to all UA employees balancing work and caregiving responsibilities.
"We want to help caregivers have community resources and support so they can be more positive and less stressed out at work," Sturges said.
Because employees often don't have time to go to support groups after work, Sturges said she wanted to create a group that could meet on campus, in the Student Union Memorial Center, during lunchtime.
Sturges, who has worked in the aging and health care field in Tucson for 25 years, facilitates the group along with Mara Levin of Pima Health System's Caregiver Education and Support Program, a nonprofit Pima County government program.
In addition to leading discussions on common caregiving topics, they also help connect attendees with community resources, such as adult day care programs, assisted living facilities and medical or hospice care.
Those who attend are also given a "How to Be a Resilient Caregiver" resource manual, funded by the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona. The book contains information and resources on a variety of topics, including home care, Medicare and health insurance, Alzheimer's and dementia and more.
The average caregiver is 46 years old and often falls in what's known as the "sandwich generation" â€“ a group of people caring simultaneously for young children and aging parents, Sturges said.
Some common challenges facing caregivers of adults include managing prescriptions, medical bills, doctor's appointments and living arrangements, and communicating information to family members about the health of the loved one. The support group offers advice and resources on practical matters as well as support for those dealing with grief and the psychological issues related to watching someone's physical or mental health decline, Sturges said.
Stress related to caring for an aging family member can also make caregivers feel isolated from others, Sturges said, so a support group offers a way for them to connect with people who can relate to what's happening in their lives.
Vargas, who retired last summer after 31 years at the UA, continues to take classes as a part-time student and attends the support group meetings regularly. He said it's helped him focus on the positive and enjoy the time he has with mother "in the moment."
"It feels terrible to have to have to put a loved one in a care home, but it's not unique," he said. "Other people care and understand."
The support group meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month in the Student Union Memorial Center. For more information on the group, individual consultations and other resources, visit the Elder Care section of the Life & Work Connections Web site.