Nonprofit Healing Hands for Helping Hearts offers massage relief to those giving care to loved ones
By Rebecca Leclair
Imagine taking care of a brain-injured, quadriplegic child with no ability to speak. Performing endless tasks like feeding, bathing and physical stimulation — round the clock, as the child grows into a man.
Being a constant caregiver — that was Lauren Hider’s life for more than two decades after her 4-year old son, Daniel, was hit by a car. She remained a primary caregiver until he died last August at the age of 30.
“It was pretty heartbreaking. We never gave up hope, but we also knew he would never get better — only incrementally worse. My life was pretty narrow,” said the mother of three from Fairport.
As the years progressed and Daniel’s health declined, Hider also needed to give more attention to her aging parents. They still lived in their home but neither could drive any longer. Then her father had a stroke.
“My dad had been taking care of my mother who has dementia. He could no longer function in that role. They needed groceries. They needed meals. They needed to be driven to doctor’s appointments. I guess you could say the past seven years of my life have been crazy,” said Hider.
Healthcare professionals would label what Lauren Hider was experiencing as “caregiver stress.”
In general, the signs and symptoms include feeling overwhelmed, feeling tired most of the time, losing interest in activities you enjoy, becoming easily irritated, being worried or sad, having headaches or body aches, plus gaining or losing a lot of weight.
Luckily, Hider was leading yoga classes, so she was able to stay fit but she still experienced aches and pains and felt isolated and exhausted.
Deborah Aylward of Webster says she’s experienced the whole range of those symptoms while caring for her 81-year-old husband. She helped him through throat cancer in 2017. More recently, he was diagnosed with vascular dementia.
“You are basically housebound. You can’t leave a person with dementia alone. They might wander. You are worried they will leave the stove on. The constant fear saps your energy and you never get to focus on yourself,” said the retired psychiatric nurse.
Recently, both women have been able to connect with the organization called Healing Hands for Helping Hearts.
It operates out of the Wellness Center Fairport at 29 Pleasant St. in Fairport. The owner, Linda Demme, created the nonprofit to provide discounted massage to people who serve as caregivers.
Demme is the director of Wellness Center Fairport and founder of Healing Hands for Helping Hearts. She is a registered nurse and licensed massage therapist. She is also certified in oncology massage and manual lymphatic drainage focusing on women with a history of breast cancer.
“Caregivers are terrible about taking care of themselves,” Demme says. “They bear the weight of the world on their shoulders. Many need true pain relief because of the physical nature of taking care of someone who is bed-ridden or who is not very mobile. Getting a massage can really help the caregiver stay healthy.”
Massage typically involves soft-tissue manipulation techniques and touch therapies that are intended to relieve tension, reduce stress and fatigue while improving circulation.
Both Hider and Aylward knew they would benefit from getting a massage, but admit it was hard to schedule time for themselves.
“You just have to decide to make the appointment,” said Hider. “I’m a licensed massage therapist myself and would tell people how great massage is at reducing stress. However, it took this program to really get me focused on my needs. Now, my husband is taking advantage of Healing Hands, too.”
Aylward describes the program as a godsend. “It has given me a way to forget about my troubles for an hour—to just let things go. When the massage is over, I feel like a new person because I can actually ‘feel’ my body again.”
Healing Hands for Helping Hearts is ready to take on more caregivers. Those interested in the discounted massage ($30 an hour) must fill out an application. Demme then assigns a participating therapist to meet the caregiver’s physical and emotional needs.
“Personally, I offer traditional massage for stress reduction but we also have a therapist who specializes in injuries. We just teamed up with a massage therapist who offers grief massage, so there really is a range,” said Demme. Caregivers can receive services for up to six months after their loved one dies.
Demme is looking for more massage therapists to join her nonprofit and is seeking grants and sponsors to pay the therapists fees and underwrite expenses.
For more information or to schedule a massage, visit www.wellnesscenterfairport.com or call 585-797-5752.