Caring about the caregiver

Caring about the caregiver

In the United States, approximately four in 10 people are caring for an adult or child with significant health issues. Most are between 30 and 64 years old and also hold a full- or part-time job.

Research shows that many of them provide the care with little or no support and have had zero preparation or training for the responsibility. Research also shows that family members who provide care to people with chronic or disabling conditions are at increased risk of developing their own emotional, physical and mental health problems.

Enter Kate Fallon, a licensed clinical professional counselor with national certification. At the tender age of 56, Kate recently decided to start her own business counseling people who are struggling to care for themselves as they care for someone else.

In October, she hung her shingle outside her new office on Forest Avenue in Portland. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in clinical counseling. For the past 10 years she has been associated with the Southern Maine Agency on Aging in Scarborough, providing education and support to people caring for family members or friends who are elderly, chronically ill, have dementia and/or are near the end of life.

Kate has always, in some capacity, worked with people coping with the grief and loss that often accompanies a life change. Whether it’s an illness or a death, the end of a job, going off to college or moving, change can be disruptive and difficult to handle.

“Even good change can mean you’re giving something up,” she says. “I feel that part of life is loss. At some point, we all have to deal with horrific loss – that’s just part of the deal.”

After a couple of years of thinking about going out on her own and offering one-on-one counseling, Kate finally decided it was time to act. She says, “It really came from a place of seeing a need that wasn’t being filled and knowing that I had the background to fill it.”

The need that caregivers have for support and understanding is palpable, she says. She feels it every time she works with families caring for someone with dementia and she felt it on a personal level when her father died of Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago.

“It’s not only the dementia itself,” she says, “it’s all this other stuff. It’s that you’re losing your best friend, who’s still in the room but is gone. And it’s maybe taking care of somebody who never actually took care of you, who may have perhaps raised you in a pretty horrible way. I’ve seen a lot of that – people coming back to take care of a parent who was pretty abusive, who doesn’t have any memory of that now. The other thing is people who come at this from a place of, ‘I don’t have any choice.’ What a disempowered way of doing something that’s so hard.”

Another huge issue for many caregivers is feeling guilty because they think they’re not doing enough.

“I’ve talked to some caregivers,” Kate says, “who are literally sacrificing everything to take care of somebody else and they still feel like they’re not doing enough.”

She offers a safe, confidential environment where someone can talk openly and honestly, without the guilt. She outfitted her office as comfortably as possible so that her clients would feel welcome and relaxed and she, too, would feel nurtured. The rocking chair she sits in is the same one she rocked her children in years ago. On one wall hangs artwork created by her daughter. Her logo is a poppy, a tribute to her father.

“All of his grandchildren called him Poppie,” she explains. “He continues to inspire me, always.”

The most comfy client chair is a wingback that she found on Craigslist. When she met the couple selling it, she discovered the husband had Alzheimer’s.

“When I told his wife about the work I do,” she says, “she was very pleased to know who would be sitting in that chair.”

Draped across the back of the chair is a blanket, soft and big enough to wrap yourself in if that’s what you want to do – and some clients have. Caregiving can be so overwhelming and stressful that all you want to do is go home, climb under the covers and stay there. Too often, people who care for someone else don’t know how to take care of themselves. Whatever a person needs to get through such a difficult situation – a safe environment, wisdom that comes from training and experience, understanding, a soft blanket – that’s what Kate Fallon has to offer.

If you’d like more information about Kate’s business, which is called Ageless Journeys, visit her website, www.agelesscounseling.com.

Kate Fallon opened a practice to provide support for caregivers. “I’ve talked to some caregivers who are literally sacrificing everything to take care of somebody else and they still feel like they’re not doing enough,” she says.  Kate Fallon’s office features a comfy client chair with a soft blanket draped across the back.  

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