Support for Caregivers

February 10, 2012

Donna Keller and Virginia Houska

attend every month.

Each month in El Reno, caregivers are spending some much-needed time focusing on themselves. Nurses from Mercy Hospital El Reno meet with people who care for the elderly, ill or disabled to share resources, give advice and just listen.

The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that 20 percent of family caregivers suffer from depression – twice the percentage of depressed in the general population. That percentage increases to 41 when referring to a caregiver supporting someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. To anyone who has taken care of a loved one, those statistics are no surprise. It’s a challenging and often emotionally overwhelming responsibility.

That’s why Shelley Wix and Debbie Maguire, expert caregivers from Mercy Hospital El Reno, host a monthly caregiver support group. The group is free and open to anyone who is currently or has ever been a caregiver. Donna Keller and Virginia Houska attend every month, and they’re grateful for Wix’s and Maguire’s shared experiences.

“Our group is small now, so we talk about whatever is going on in our caregivers’ lives at that point,” says Wix, director of Mercy Home Health – an in-home caregiver service. “But, as we grow we will schedule expert speakers who can come and teach coping and caring techniques.”

In addition to their medical experiences as registered nurses, Wix and Maguire have cared for aging family members themselves, and they lean on those personal experiences to advise support-group attendees.

“Our community is our calling,” says Maguire, case manager at Mercy Home Health. “Shelley and I look forward to these meetings every month.”

Maguire and Wix have cared for many of their own family members over the years, including parents and grandparents.

“God allowed us to get through those times so we can help others,” says Wix.

They help their groups understand the frustration their parents are experiencing as they lose independence. Maguire reminded caregivers about the importance of unconditional love during their January meeting.

“They’re frustrated; they’re not really mad at you,” Maguire explained. “They’re acting mad at you because they know you’ll love them no matter what.”

Reminders like Maguire’s are helping Keller cope while she cares for Rachel, her 92-year-old mother, who has been living with dementia for 17 years. Keller, like many children of aging parents, struggles with the guilt of deciding if her mother will soon need to be moved to a facility where she can receive round-the-clock care that Keller is unable to provide.

“It’s hard to understand why she can’t understand,” says Keller. “I have to remember it’s the dementia and some days are better than others, but one person can’t do it alone.”

Luckily, Keller’s brother is local and supportive. Also, her friend of 25 years, Virginia Houska helps care for Rachel. Houska attends the support group meetings every month with her friend.

“I enjoy the camaraderie,” says Houska. She enjoys watching her friend make progress thanks to the group, too. “She is definitely starting to feel better about it.”

Keller agrees the monthly meetings are helping her.

“I’m starting to understand it and accept it,” she says. “Emotionally, I’m getting beyond the guilt. I’m only human.”

Caregiver support groups are free, 2 – 3:30 p.m. the last Thursday of each month in the conference room at Mercy Hospital El Reno. Caregivers interested in attending may call Shelley Wix or Debbie Maguire at 405-262-6877 for more information. 

Mercy is the eighth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 31 hospitals, more than 200 outpatient facilities, 38,000 co-workers and 1,500 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. For more about Mercy, visit

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Meredith Huggins
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Phone: 405-936-5766