Vancouver resident Virg Birdsall used to wake up at 5 each morning to go to the gym. When his wifeâ€™s mid-stage Alzheimerâ€™s disease caused her to begin to wander a year ago, Birdsall had to give up that ritual in order to be with her 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
â€œI am a very physical person,â€ said Birdsall, 83. â€œI like to do a lot of physical things. I had stopped doing that.â€
Earlier this summer, Birdsall attended a cost-free program for unpaid caregivers that helped him to recover his daily exercise routine.
Powerful Tools for Caregivers is a six-week class offered at Vancouverâ€™s Southwest Agency on Aging and Disabilities. The class centers on preserving and in some cases, reclaiming, the health and wellbeing of the caregiver.
â€œCaregivers just totally neglect themselves because theyâ€™re so wrapped up in taking care of their loved one that they donâ€™t take care of themselves,â€ said Shanti Potts, a Powerful Tools class leader from Vancouver.
The stress of family caregiving increases caregiversâ€™ risk of depression and premature death, according to research. One 2004 study by the University of Californiaâ€™s Department of Psychiatry found family caregiving can take as much as 10 years from a caregiverâ€™s life.