OAKHURST – The numbers are staggering: 65.7 million caregivers make up 29% of the adult U.S. population, providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged, according to a study published by the National Alliance of Caregiving.
Many families regularly face the stress and isolation that can come along with taking care of an aging or ailing person. Now in Oakhurst, an ongoing duo of programs may offer much-needed relief to people who look after loved ones.The first is a free Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group meeting the second and fourth Tuesday of each month from 10 – 11:30 a.m. at the Lutheran Church on Road 426.
The group provides support for individuals caring for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia, along with information and resources. For details call the Valley Caregiver Resource Center (800) 541-8614. There is no charge for the support group.
In addition to the support group, a second group is offered for a variety of circumstances. The Sierra Senior Society sponsors a Caregiver Respite Group every Tuesday, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Sierra Senior Center. The cost for respite care is $15 per person for the 4 hour day. The arrangement gives caregivers an opportunity to take a break while their family member enjoys a structured day of activities, socialization and personal care assistance provided by kind, experienced volunteers.
Barbara Leath and Jennie Flaherty are regular volunteers for the Caregiver Respite Group, which welcomes loved ones of any caregivers in need of time off, including family members with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and stroke survivors, along with the disabled and the elderly.
“We are a friendly and relaxed group,” assures Leath. “There is no pressure to participate. If a loved one wants to just listen and watch that is fine.”
Staying at the Senior Center for the program does require guests to be semi-independent with regards to using the bathroom and feeding themselves.
“We will provide minimal assistance, for instance, escorting them to the bathroom and cutting food,” explains Leath. “Wheelchairs and walkers are fine. We encourage the caregiver to stay the first hour or the whole day, whatever they prefer.”
The main purpose of the respite is to give caregivers some time on their own, to run errands, visit the doctor or just stay home and relax. Meanwhile, the caregiver’s loved one has the chance for a few hours of cognitive stimulation, activity, and socializing to decrease the potential for isolation on the side of the person who needs the care.
Participants are first greeted with coffee and a snack followed by easy-going conversation.
“We talk about their weekend and current events and then reminisce about past events that happened in history during the current week. We encourage group discussions,” Leath says.
“We then play games such as dominos, cards, hangman, and anything to get them thinking. We call it mind aerobics. Even someone with a significant degree of cognitive decline can enjoy these activities with some assistance.”
Following lunch the group listens to music and plays more games, often outside, weather permitting. “We try to get them to do a little physical activity, such as a ring toss game, if they are capable. Our goal is to provide a safe, fun environment for the participants,” continues Leath.
According to organizers, families may be reluctant to participate because they don’t know what to expect.
“They are nervous to leave each other,” Leath confirms. “We had a wife of a participant come back early to take a peek to see how her husband was doing. To her surprise he was laughing and participating. From that day on she knew she made the right decision for him and most importantly for herself.”
Leath stresses the importance of caregivers caring for themselves.
“I know it is easier said than done but it is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver, whether it is asking family members and friends to help out, doing things for yourself that you enjoy, or attending a support group. Taking these actions can bring you some relief. It also may help keep you, the caregiver, from becoming ill or feeling depressed.”
For more information or to reserve a space for the Caregiver Respite, call the Senior Center at (559) 683-3811.