Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

June 5, 2014

Care for the caregiver

Workshop aims to help 'sandwich generation' cope

By Judy Wakefield

---- — Her 93-year-old widowed mother needs her pills and morning eye drops while her 19-month-old grandson is squirming for a snack.

Trish Simpson’s daughter is also living in her home on Quail Run to save money to buy a house.

At 62 years old, Simpson never thought this stage of her life would be so hectic. The retired Wilmington school teacher who now works part-time for that district had looked forward to some time for herself spent enjoying her favorite things.

But now she can’t even remember what it was she liked to do as her caregiver family role has evolved into a full-time responsibility.

Simpson is finding herself sandwiched between the generations taking care of the young and old in her family.

“I pray a lot ... it’s emotional at times, but I love my family,” said Simpson, who is divorced. “It would be great if there was help for caregivers, someone to talk to, but there isn’t.”

Dr. Suetta Tenney, a mind/body specialist who lives and works in Andover, truly understands the fulfilling, but often frustrating role Simpson holds in her family.

Tenney led that life for many years as her younger sister has Down’s syndrome and she took loving care of her late mother and grandmother as they suffered from serious health problems.

“You have got to take care of yourself first,” said Tenney, an internist who has been practicing for over 30 years and now has an office on Andover Street.

This week, Tenney is introducing an eight-week workshop especially designed for caregivers on Thursday nights at the Center at Punchard (formerly Andover Senior Center).

Participants will learn simple mind-body techniques to assist them in caring for themselves as they care for others. The aim is to help caregivers more effectively handle the challenging demands in their lives, Karen Payne-Taylor, program coordinator at The Center at Punchard/BoomerVenture, said.

“It is astounding how many caregivers there are in Andover – many with dependent parents living at home. They are often juggling child care, senior care and typically a job all at the same time,” Payne-Taylor said.

The course was designed by The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C. Tenney, who specializes in geriatric care, is leading it as part of her certification process and is waiving all her fees as a gift to the caregivers in the community.

Discussions will be confidential so caregivers can be honest about any frustrations. Caregivers will also learn about available resources.

Tenney said each workshop will close with a “self-reflection.” She ultimately hopes caregivers learn the benefit of taking time for themselves.

“That is so important ... what is in your body and how you are feeling really matters. You have to know this,” Dr. Tenney said.

The workshop is supported by the Senior Connections adult day program staff at Punchard, who will be offering respite care for the loved ones of workshop participants to make it possible for caregivers to attend. Meals will also be available by reservation.

Simpson, for one, is grateful the Center at Punchard has recognized the need.

“I think it’s great that they are doing this,” she said. “There are so many issues that caregivers worry about, like safety of a loved one. This is a chance to see that you are not alone and lets you talk to someone.”

“Mind-Body Medicine for Caregivers” meets Thursdays starting June 5 through July 31 from 6:45 to 8:30 p.m. at The Center at Punchard, 30 Whittier Court, Andover. The cost is $25. Call 978-623-8321 or visit