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Westmoreland Area Agency on Aging lends support to caregivers

Renatta Signorini
| Thursday, July 2, 2015, 4:26 p.m.

It's been emotionally draining and heartbreaking for Peg Wiley to watch her husband slip into dementia.

She has to take care of all tasks at their Hempfield home, like preparing meals and making sure the garage door is repaired.

“It is very stressful,” Wiley said.

Every month, she looks forward to one day in particular marked on her calendar — the second Wednesday. That's when she gets to let all the feelings out and listen to others having the same experiences at a caregiver support group meeting conducted by the Westmoreland County Area Agency on Aging.

The monthly meetings are held at the Troutman Building in Greensburg.

Sometimes speakers will make a presentation to the group, said Milene Brennan, an aging care management supervisor for the family caregiver support program with the agency.

“The times when we don't have a speaker, it's really just a vent session,” Brennan said.

A few women, including Wiley, have been regularly attending to share their experiences, gain friendships and get some perspective.

Wiley has been overwhelmed with caring for her husband and said the meetings have been very beneficial. Sometimes, another group participant had a similar experience and Wiley said she can learn from the other person's response.

“We talk about ... how we feel,” Wiley said. “It's really been good.”

Sharing experiences has been a positive point for participants, Brennan said.

“It's just nice to hear that somebody else is dealing with the same thing,” Brennan said. “They come in and they start with ‘I just don't know what to do.'”

The majority of people in the support group are caregivers for someone who has some type of memory impairment, but the group is open to anyone acting as a caregiver, she said.

More than 5 million Americans age 65 and older — including 270,000 Pennsylvanians — have Alzheimer's disease in 2015, according to Alzheimer's Association estimates. Last year, about 671,000 caregivers in Pennsylvania for people with Alzheimer's and other dementia contributed 765 million hours of unpaid care, valued at more than $9 billion, the association estimates. Nearly 60 percent of caregivers nationwide rate their emotional stress level as high or very high, according to the association.

Past speakers at group sessions have discussed hospice, food banks, estate planning and governmental assistance. Brennan is available to direct participants to local resources.

While it's been difficult for Wiley to think about what lies in the future for her husband and his care, she said the support group has let her know she's not alone.

“It's just so emotionally and mentally supportive,” she said. “It gives you a chance to express how you feel and the frustrations of it, and the love you have for a person who is no longer there and how sad that is.”

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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