About 20 women gathered at a local hair salon recently, not to have their hair styled, but to discuss common issues facing family caregivers.
The event was part of Community Conversations: Sister to Sister, a grassroots initiative that focuses on topics important to Black women, often in collaboration with organizations like Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES).
The conversations feature dialogues between guest ‘faculty’ – experts in the day’s topic – and interested community members. Community Conversations approached SCES to participate, and SCES Nurse Manager Myclette Theodule recently joined a panel of medical professionals to share her perspectives as a nurse with 15 years of experience in the aging field.
Guarding against stress and burnout was a recurring theme of the discussion, with the panel reminding caregivers that their well-being is a vital component of providing the best possible care.
“There were many caregivers in the group who felt helpless, or felt like they were not doing enough for their loved ones,” said Theodule. “To be a caregiver is such a selfless job – I had to reiterate the importance of self-care and respite.”
In addition to Theodule, the panel included Chief of Geriatric Medicine at Atrius Health Dr. Monera Wong and therapist Melissa Dagher from Codman Square Health Center.
While the discussion centered on self-care, experts and community members also discussed how to handle challenging behaviors, memory decline, and safety at home. Many of the attendees identified themselves as part of the ‘Sandwich Generation’ – caring for aging parents while raising their own young children. The faculty offered suggestions for balancing these roles, and attendees chimed in to share what has worked for them.
The discussion on caregiving was part of a long series of Community Conversations. The program has offered monthly discussions at Simply Erinn’s Unisex Hair Salon in Cambridge since 2009, exploring health topics in the context of racial, ethnic, and gender disparities. According to co-founder Dita Obler, the goal is to empower women to make informed decisions about their health and the health of their families.
“At each Community Conversation, we form a community of consumers and providers but we are all participants, gathering to learn from each other,” said Obler and and fellow co-founder Shelley Flaherty. “We want to encourage open, honest dialogue that values diverse forms of expertise.”
Theodule said the intimate setting at Community Conversations opens up a space where medical providers and the community can learn from one another.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and would definitely participate again,” said Theodule.
Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services is a private, non-profit agency dedicated to improving the quality of life and maintaining the dignity and independence of older people in Somerville and Cambridge. For more information about SCES, visit eldercare.org or follow SCES on Facebook and Twitter.
Community Conversations: Sister to Sister, a Women’s Health Initiative, is an ongoing, open forum to explore health issues of particular relevance to Black women and their families. For more information about Community Conversations, visit the organization website or follow CCSister2Sister on Facebook and Twitter.