BRATTLEBORO — A new program will provide temporary relief to primary caregivers, a big need identified by Senior Solutions.
“The caregiver gets a break, knowing their loved one is safe,” said Joann Erenhouse, community relations director for Senior Solutions, formerly known as the Council on Aging for Southeastern Vermont.
The new respite volunteer program can be used for care of a person with any disability, Erenhouse said. She anticipates it will have a very large and positive impact.
Senior Solutions sought an operational grant from AmeriCorps but ended up getting a planning grant, which allowed it to conduct some research leading to the creation of the new program. Erenhouse said at least 13,000 people have been diagnosed with various Alzheimer’s disease disorders in Vermont and about 30,000 family members are taking care of them — and that care can be challenging physically, emotionally and financially.
Her group runs several visitor programs but none is meant for long stretches of time. And family and friends may be able to help caregivers for short intervals.
But the new program is aimed at giving more respite to caregivers so they can go to appointments, shop, eat lunch with a friend or do something else they might not otherwise do without the help.
Erenhouse said her group will be recruiting volunteers specially trained in respite care and training interested volunteers. Respite caregivers are likely to help for a four-hour block of time, where they will keep an eye on the person who needs care to ensure they are safe and perhaps make them lunch.
“Those four hours would be an opportunity for the family caregiver to get out of the house and recharge their battery. And at the same time, the family caregiver will know the person in the home will really take care of the person,” Erenhouse said. “They won’t be sitting on their cell phone. They’ll be responsible and understand the specific needs of the dementia client.”
Erenhouse said respite caregivers may provide transportation to the primary caregiver’s loved one but arrangements would need to be made beforehand with the primary caregiver.
Respite caregivers will participate in training for the program and receive reimbursement for mileage. Anyone 18 and older can apply.
Erenhouse said young adults and college students are encouraged to apply, especially those looking for experience in the medical field.
Volunteers receive benefits such as the camaraderie of being part of a volunteer team and recognition for their work, Erenhouse said. Her group has events to thank volunteers and promote their work.
Training for the new program will begin as soon as volunteers start signing up, which can be done by calling 802-885-2669.
Senior Solutions also will have support groups available to caregivers.
“We think that’s a key piece to not only making the caregiver’s life better but it also helps the patient,” Erenhouse said. “The person living in that world is limited to what they can do for themselves. If they have a caregiver who is upbeat and doesn’t feel like they’re giving up their whole life, it’s a better experience.”
Erenhouse said another result of the planning grant involves forming Memory Cafes, which allows those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia “a safe place” to share their memories in a small group.
“It helps them feel part of the community again,” she said.
So far, three sites in Windham and Windsor counties have been identified to host the program.