An innovative program from the University of Michigan Health System aims to address the needs of care-partners of adults living with memory loss
Matthaei Botanical Gardens is the setting for a new monthly wellness program developed by the Michigan Alzheimer’s DiseaseCenter (MADC). The free stress-reduction program, called “Catching Your Breath,” allows caregivers to refresh and recharge in the restorative atmosphere of the Gardens.
We’re all familiar with stress and the toll it takes on our well-being. For caregivers of adults living with memory loss, stress is an even greater factor in their lives as the demands of the care they provide pull them ever further from their own emotional and physical needs.
Despite the considerable contributions care-partners make to loved ones suffering from memory loss they remain an underserved and often overlooked group in the spectrum of care. And the care they provide takes its toll; research shows that caregivers experience much higher levels of stress than non-caregivers, and caregivers report feelings of anger, guilt, or helplessness as a result of providing care.
Catching Your Breath is a way to support care-givers and the ways they take care of themselves, explains MADC program coordinator Laura Rice-Oeschger, LMSW. “Caregivers experience more stress, doubt, and fear,” Rice-Oeschger says. “Catching Your Breath introduces the idea of self-care for caregivers in an atmosphere that’s welcoming and nonjudging and about letting go.”
Each Catching Your Breath session is unique and may include instruc­tions and guidance in meditation practices; mindful perspectives such as mindful eating, walking, and breathing; visualization; art projects; and book or poetry readings. Spring and summer 2012 guest speakers facilitated discussions for maintain­ing balance and cultivating wellness while caregiving, and for the Novem­ber session Rice-Oeschger coordinat­ed a discussion and activity around preparations for wellness during the holiday season to help members create a holiday stress-management plan. “For any new members,” Rice-Oeschger explains, “the practices and discussion are simple and open. For folks who are returning, it’s an op­portunity to deepen the commitment to self-care and revisit old skills.”
A Holistic Approach
Catching Your Breath is part of MADC’s larger mission to improve the life experiences of caregivers, their families, and those who have cognitive impairment, says Dr. Henry Paulson,  Professor of Neurology at the University of Michigan Medical School and the Director of Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
MADC’s three-pronged mission includes research, care, and education for the public and health care professionals alike about the causes and treatment of dementia, and Catching Your Breath “is an exciting new component of our growing effort to help caregivers understand and deal with the issues they might face as this complex, chronic disease goes through its many phases,” Paulson notes.
Inspiring and enriching people’s lives through contact with nature forms a core mission of Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, and the Catching Your Breath program speaks to that principle, says Matthaei- Nichols’ Director Robert Grese. “Catching Your Breath recognizes the restorative value of nature and beautiful gardens in people’s lives, particularly for those dealing with much emo­tional stress,” he says. As medical care shifts to recognize the need to treat the whole person as well as to provide support for family members who serve as caregivers, adds Grese, places like the Conser­vatory, gardens, or nature trails become more important as settings that provide respite.”
Working with MADC also underscores how the Arb and Gardens continues to find new ways to collaborate with other units at the University, says Grese. “Catching Your Breath is a perfect fit, in part because of the medical campuses’ proximity to the Arboretum and the Gardens but also because it’s natural that we should look for ways to improve physical access to our properties and institute programs here that engage medical staff, patients, and their families.”
For more information about Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center or Catching Your Breath visit the MADC website or call 734.936.8764. Interested in attending a session in 2013? Catching Your Breath winter / spring 2013 schedule:
Jan. 16, 6:30–8 pm
Feb. 13, 10–11:30 am
March 20, 6:30–8 pm

April 17, 10–11:30 am