Conference to bring caregivers hope and strength with knowledge, support and humor

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Shelly Birkelo
Friday, July 11, 2014

JANESVILLE—Jerry Schulz has been Lauren Oftedahl's full-time caregiver for the past five years.

He provides her transportation and all her personal care. He feeds her, does her laundry, grocery shops and feeds her.

"Anything you would do for yourself I do for her," Schulz said of Oftedahl. The 29-year-old Janesville woman has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder that is a form of Muscular Dystrophy.

In an effort to better care for Oftedahl, Schulz plans to attend KANDU's CareLIVING Conference on Monday, July 23, at the Pontiac Convention Center.

"I hope to learn tips and tricks of how to do things better even though she tells me her needs," said Schulz, 41, Janesville.

He also wants to meet and network with other full-time caregivers, which Oftedahl said would be good for him.

"He can compare experiences on taking care of another person," she said.

The conference is designed to give caregivers hope and strength through knowledge, support and humor, said Julie Smith, program director at KANDU.

"A vast majority of our clients have caregivers, so we recognize the stress and effort it takes to provide support to people we work with (at KANDU)," she said.

Recognizing that caregivers in the community need support, KANDU “is striving to give these people a day to feel like they matter with some tools to make their struggle a little easier," Smith said.

The conference will be a day of fun and learning with this message: “You're not in it alone, and you matter,” she said.

The conference lineup features one guest speaker who will present four programs, a keynote speaker, lunch and sponsor expo booths.

-- Award-winning speaker and a national spokeswoman for family and professional caregivers Brenda Avadian will present “Am I a Caregiver?” at 9 a.m.

During her 10:30 a.m. program “Can I Survive as a Caregiver?” Avadian will discuss the continuum of care options such as adult day care and support groups. She also will offer an introduction to types of dementia, diagnoses and research.

At 12:30 p.m., Avadian will present “Finding the Joy in Caregiving.” This interactive session will include tips for joyful caregiving.

Avadian's 1:45 p.m. program will focus on “CareLIVING: I'm a Caregiver and I Matter.” This will include a program review, caregiver questions and answers plus tips for evaluation and an action plan.

Avadian, who has written eight books, began full-time caregiving in 1996—three years after he mother died, and just as her father began showing signs of dementia.

--Charlotte Deleste, morning news anchor for WISC-TV 3 and founder of Gio's Garden, will be the 11:30 a.m. lunch keynote speaker. Her program will focus on tips for finding respite when none is available.

Deleste's oldest son, Gio, was diagnosed with Lennox Gastaut Syndrome, a rare form of childhood epilepsy that causes between 20 and 80-plus seizures a day. After struggling to find proper respite care, Deleste became determined to find help both her family and for others in similar situations.

Gio's Garden in Middleton is a center that gives children with special needs a chance to work on therapeutic goals while their families get a short break.

Those attending the CareLIVING Conference will will be able to visit a series of expo booths for helpful information, and each person will receive a complimentary copy of one of Avadian's books.

"This will be a way for sponsors to talk to people and tell about their services," Smith said.

The conference reaches out to all types of caregivers--not just those taking care of the elderly, children or disabled.

"A caregiver is a caregiver," Smith said.

Meanwhile, Schulz looks forward to learning some helpful tips.

"There's no training course to be a caregiver," he said.

"It's all hands-on learning,” said Oftedahl. "He's basically my body."

Oftedahl said she is pleased Schulz is attending the conference because she also will benefit from what he learns.

"I don't want to see him get burned out," she said.

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