Gertrude Shuker (sitting) with daughter Julia and Community Dementia Clinician Elba Souza. Submitted photo

Gertrude Shuker (sitting) with daughter Julia and Community Dementia Clinician Elba Souza. Submitted photo

Caregiving is no easy job

Abbotsford and Mission Specialized Seniors Clinic now offers community dementia clinician to form the best caregiving strategy

At the age of 89, “more or less,” Gertrude Shuker is as proud, spry, and determined as ever.

She has always gotten involved in whatever she was invited to – that is, if she wasn’t already the one doing the inviting.

When not running a successful business, Gertrude was running the Shuker family home and garden, and raising her children, Julia and Jaymon. Life was vibrant, until one day, it wasn’t.

After Gertrude’s husband passed away in December 2015, Julia moved into her childhood home to support her mother. Within a year of her dad’s passing, Julia noticed that her mom started to experience delusions, struggled to remember things, and became inexplicably angry. Her conversations would trail off.

Frightened by what was happening to her mom and feeling powerless, in May 2016, Julia met with the social worker who was assigned to her family after her dad passed. Services were offered through the Abbotsford and Mission Specialized Seniors Clinic, including the support of Elba Dsouza.

Elba is the community dementia clinician, and she came over with a community care worker to visit Gertrude and Julia.

“My parents were always 110 per cent behind me,” Julia says. “It was my privilege to care for my mother, but I couldn’t manage studying, working, and caring for my mom in the way that I was.”

Caregiving is no easy job. The right supports are needed to maintain the physical and emotional health of the caregiver, yet many often don’t recognize the warning signs, or deny its effects on their personal health. At times, caregivers are alone as they compensate for the losses in their loved ones – they are living, caring and managing lives for two people.

The role of the community dementia clinician has been quite powerful in Abbotsford.

“Having a loved one with challenging behaviours whom you’re trying to care for and keep at home leads to caregiver burnout and earlier-than-desired placement in residential care,” says Sarah Siebert, clinical nurse specialist, Abbotsford Mission Communities.

“Having someone like Elba who helps with strategies to support them as a caregiver, rather than just expecting that they carry on with these challenging behaviours, is powerful. Without that support, many of these people with dementia would be going into residential care earlier than necessary.”

Elba says: “Time of day, certain words on TV, even water splashed on the face during a shower can trigger behaviour in a person.

“When I bring this to caregivers’ attention that the person is trying to communicate but cognitively unable to, their reaction is often, ‘Oh! That’s why they’re doing that. Now that makes sense,’ rather than ‘Why don’t they just stop!’ ”

Elba walks caregivers through the underlying reasons for their loved one’s or client’s behaviour and provides them with ways to approach the client that is based on their interests and abilities. This helps redirect and soothe the person, which eases their behaviour.

Elba involves caregivers and clients as part of the team that includes community workers and family doctors, and is as focused on caring for the caregiver as she is on the client.

“The first time we met with Elba, I was not doing well,” recalls Julia. “She asked me about my level of worry. ‘How are you doing on a scale from one to four?’ she asked, to which I replied, ‘Is there a five?’ We laughed and I knew then we would have a good working relationship.”

Elba was able to provide Julia with some quick and simple strategies that could assist her in diverting her mom’s attention from what was agitating her to something that she enjoyed. She also facilitated respite care for when Julia was working, so Julia could focus on her job. With support, Julia was able to care for her mom at home for 28 months after her dad passed away. Julia was also able to complete her master’s degree with distinction, and then became a university professor.

“I needed to acknowledge that I couldn’t do it all, despite my trying to do so,” Julia says. “Elba would assure me that how I felt was totally normal, and was able to put things into perspective for me in a way that others in my life couldn’t. She also taught me that it’s a sign of strength to ask for help.”

Today, Gertrude is disappointed that it’s too cold out to be in her favourite place – in the sun, in the courtyard of the Menno Hospital. She moved in just a couple of months ago when her care needs progressed. Since moving in, she has been busy filling pots with geraniums, bacopa and big tomato plants, just like she did at home. Even if it doesn’t warm up later, she is still keen to get outside to tend to them. After all, she’s never been one to let anything get in her way. Smiling, Julia leans over to her mom and says, “We’re superwomen, aren’t we, mom? We just put our capes on and away we go.”

For more information visit