Caregivers are often the hidden heroes when providing care to their spouse or other family member. Veterans and/or veteran spouses are often placed in a position where they must provide care with little knowledge how the role can affect their mental health. The new caregiver role stems from new challenges. These can be life-changing for a spouse and commonly cause loneliness, frustration, resentment, and sadness.
PEARLS (Program to Encourage Active and Rewarding Lives) recognizes that veterans and veteran spouses are appointed the difficult task of being a caregiver for their loved one. PEARLS is a home- and community-based program to assist older adults who have symptoms of minor depression. The program offers short-term intervention that supplements services to veterans, veteran spouses, and spouse survivors.
PEARLS is dedicated to helping participants learn problem-solving skills, become more active, and enjoy a rewarding life. Often, caregivers attempt to navigate their spouse’s health care system, coordinate care, and tend to their loved one’s needs (feeding, bathing, transporting, etc.) as well as their own. These responsibilities can create stress, fatigue, and depression among family members.
As a PEARLS for Veterans counselor, I’ve worked with veteran spouses who have taken on the caregiver role. I have witnessed their struggle.
Johnnie, a veteran spouse who lives in King County, is caring for her veteran husband who struggles with dementia. Johnnie coordinates her husband’s medical appointments, transports him, bathes him, communicates with his doctors, and oversees his medical needs. Johnnie has medical needs of her own, and she finds little time to engage in activities that she enjoys.
When Johnnie experienced symptoms of depression—feelings of sadness and loneliness, and no motivation to participate in activities she normally enjoyed—she was referred to PEARLS to help her manage those symptoms and develop new strategies to motivate activity.
Through PEARLS for Veterans, Johnnie learned problem-solving skills that aided her while she cared for her husband. She regained a sense of empowerment by reconnecting with her bible study group and finding time to spend with her friends and family. In addition, Johnnie was able to connect with a home health agency that offers caregiving services. Her symptoms of depression decreased, and motivation increased by applying the tools and skills she received while participating in PEARLS.
In Johnnie’s own words: “PEARLS encouraged me to go back to the things that were meaningful to me. I’m going out with my friends, feeling good about myself, and coming out of my depression. I got help with housework and built self-esteem and I feel valued. Having direct contact with someone who will sit and listen to my concerns and share made a big difference.”
If you are a veteran, military spouse, or spouse survivor who feels down, sad, or hopeless more often than not, you have little interest or pleasure in doing things, and you are 55 or older, contact Suzet Tave (206-615-0533 or firstname.lastname@example.org) or Carl Kaiser (206-386-0039 or email@example.com) for information about PEARLS.
PEARLS counseling is provided free of charge to eligible individuals. The PEARLS program received funding from the King County Veterans and Human Services Levy. Learn more at www.agingkingcounty.org/veterans.
Contributor Suzet Tave, shown in the photo at top, is a PEARLS counselor at Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for King County, which is a division of the Seattle Human Services Department. PEARLS for Veterans receives King County Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy funding.