Elder Caregiver Supports You May Not Know About

There are plenty a supports available, all you have to do is ask

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

If you provide care for a senior, whether in your home or not, you have many community resources that can help you.

A referral agency can represent a good first step in discovering what is available to help meet the elder’s needs as well as to pursue self-care.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve had to reimagine how we’ve been working with caregivers,” said JoAnne Spoto Decker, deputy commissioner and executive director for the Onondaga County Office for Aging.

Instead of offering in-person caregiver support groups, the Office for the Aging has hosted virtual groups where peers can offer tips and emotional support. Pre-COVID, their Institute for Caregivers provided in-person classes led by pro bono experts on many topics related to caregiving. The classes are now offered in a live virtual format and are archived on the organization’s website.

The office also fields calls from caregivers seeking information and resources. Among the latter is the county’s short-term caregiver respite program, offered in-home or through an adult daycare setting. Help in applying for benefits and referrals to area resources can also help meet caregivers’ needs for meals, care and transportation.

“We have a strong core of programs that can be individually tailored to the care receiver,” Decker said. “We have registered dietitians on our staff who are able to assist people who have a deficit in their nutritional needs. It’s a perfect opportunity for caregivers to call us, even if they have everything else in place if there are other needs.”

Elizabeth Weimer, New York Connects caregiver service coordinator, also helps caregivers find caregiver support and programs to meet their loved one’s needs, such as transportation or the Home Delivered Meals program for those who struggle to cook or obtain healthful meals, both of which are for those 60 and older.

In the Powerful Tools program, a six-week course offered online, “we have some tools on how to handle stress, set up a family meeting, take away the keys, transition to assisted living and more,” Weimer said. “It’s an evidence-based course.”

New York Connects can also help connect seniors with funding for services such as reimbursement for companion care, medical items not covered by insurance or home repairs and upgrades.

“Our ultimate goal is to keep seniors safe in their home as long as possible,” Weimer said. “We use our caregiver newsletter to give ideas.”

Accessing care resources a la carte makes sense as the need for assistance can vary from a few services to many. Stephanie Button, vice president of PACE CNY, said that her organization offers “a comprehensive variety of services that help a caregiver from transportation to home care to assistance with medical management to using all the services at our day center. It’s one-stop shopping type of program and can avoid fragmentation.”

The organization’s person-centered approach includes the caregiver with respite and programming.

As for non-agency help, caregivers should reach out to trusted people in the community. Button recommended churches, community centers and other volunteer organizations.

“People in your community may be able and willing to help,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask a neighbor for help for things like shoveling a driveway, taking out the trash.”

Accessing food can be tough for seniors who lack transportation, struggle to walk through a large store or cannot lug the bags from the cart to the trunk and the trunk to the kitchen. Shipping goods to a senior may help.

“You could be a distant or local caregiver and do it all online,” Button said.

Some grocery stores provide delivery and some pharmacies will add store items to prescription deliveries. Stores now offer curbside pickup, which can aid those who can have a helper stop by the store and deliver their items to their home.

A meal service such as Real Eats or Hello Fresh can help provide food for those who struggle with grocery shopping and cooking.

Setting up telehealth can assist seniors who lack transportation to doctor’s visits.

Button encourages seniors and caregivers to look into resources for help before they are needed.

“Being prepared to acknowledge that and make decisions about what your care looks like helps you avoid operating in crisis,” she said.