On Saturday, March 30, over 250 caregivers both new and experienced gathered at the Pasadena Buddhist Temple for educational sessions, a resource fair, and individual consultations. This year’s Caregiver Conference covered new topics like hands-on caregiving techniques and how mobile application can assist caregivers. But it also continued one of the long-standing goals of these conferences: helping caregivers to care not only for their loved ones, but for themselves.

For Seitaro Miyano and his wife Colleen, the day was an important step as they have begun taking active measures to prepare themselves for the time when they may need to seek care.

“We don’t know if we can depend on just one thing,” Colleen explains. “So we have to educate ourselves now.” After caring for her dad, who was in his 90’s, she learned a lot. But she also admits there’s more to learn – especially when it comes to herself and her husband.

Over 40 million people in the United States are considered caregivers – most of them unpaid and not professionally trained. They provide help with everything from daily errands to essential needs. With such a deep dedication to their roles as caregivers, they also to need to make sure that they are looking after themselves.

Self Care, Care Management

The conference began with a deep look at ways caregivers can better manage their own stress. The morning keynote speaker Patty Watson-Swan, community nursing supervisor at the Huntington Hospital Senior Care Network, emphasized to attendees that “not caring for yourself is beneficial to no one.”

Patty gave guided scenarios and action plans for managing stress. She recommended gratitude journals, mindful meditation, and a number of other ways to lower stress. Patty even suggested that caregivers change the view of their role from being caregivers to being care managers. She defined this as the switch from taking everything onto oneself to finding ways to better delegate and reframe thoughts or expectations.

That message spoke to many people who were there. For conference attendee Lynne Hanamoto, Patty’s recommendation on “joy breaks” was a big deal for her.

“That was so helpful, I really needed to know what a joy break was,” Lynne said. “Because caregiving can be so stressful and to be mindful of yourself is important. To take time to breathe and be present is huge.”

Lynne says she’s been to a number of conferences but this one was especially helpful for herself. “It’s always a learning process,” she explained.

Mobile Caregiving Near and Far

This year, Keiro introduced a new topic: mobile caregiving. The interactive and conversational presentation went over a number of smartphone applications, digital resources, and electronic devices to help supplement caregiving responsibilities.

Makoto Kotani, program analyst at Keiro, asked those in the audience to think about smart devices as a powerful tool. He explained how to find a number of online resources including Facebook groups dedicated to Caregivers and AgingCare’s Caregiver Forum. These spaces can give general and specific advice ranging from stress management to medical treatments. It helps caregivers connect with others, leaving them feeling less isolated and better informed.

Emily Hopkins heard about the conference through the temple and is part of an artists’ project in the community. Emily says she’s a remote caregiver for her dad and sister who live in another state. Digital tools like these are important, if not essential. “I thought things like the WYZE camera were helpful – I am definitely looking into that. It was just an overall helpful session on managing care. I thought it was really important to look at it that way.”

Mobile applications like CaringBridge and Lotsa Helping Hands can give caregivers practical tools right at their fingertips to do exactly that: manage care.

The other two breakout sessions also provided practical knowledge. RNA Jose Orozco from Kei-Ai Los Angeles Healthcare Center gave a live demonstration on the proper way to transfer a person from a bed to a wheelchair, among other scenarios caregivers experience in the home. Responding to audience questions, he gave tips on how to choose a walker and what to do with special postural needs. Becky Happach, Manager of Business Development at Home Care Assistance, reviewed how to begin the process for finding and hiring in-home care.

Iyashi Care and Family Dynamics

During the afternoon keynote session, panelists Kanako Fukuyama, Joshua Northcutt, and Dr. Yuichi Edwin Yanami from the Iyashi Care team explored how palliative care can help navigate family dynamics.

Caregiving for a loved one is already challenging in itself but having multiple family members involved can sometimes make it challenging, as people have different expectations and opinions.

In addition to addressing a person’s illness medically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually – the Iyashi Care team can also help caregivers with conflict management. It’s that extra layer of support in developing a spirit of cooperation to better serve the patient and the family through an already difficult time.

The panelists shared numerous scenarios of how the team can and has assisted families. “Often differences come from misunderstanding and a family doesn’t have to come to that,” Dr. Yanami said. He added that the Iyashi Care team acts as a neutral third party to listen and clarify where each family member is coming from. “It’s in their heart but sometimes people have trouble explaining in the right words.”

Keiro remains committed to serving current, past, and future caregivers in Our Community through meaningful and practical programming to support them on their journey.