by Ken Genewick
Program Officer for Caregiving
November is National Family Caregivers Month, an opportunity to recognize those who selflessly provide care for someone with an illness or disability. Millions of Americans fill the role of family caregiver, playing a pivotal part in their loved one’s care team. Even though this work is performed out of love and compassion, caregivers frequently face a unique set of challenges that can include mental, physical, financial or emotional stress.
At the Health Foundation, we remain dedicated to supporting programs that recognize the challenges and needs of caregivers and help make their lives easier, including the following new respite care opportunities for our region. By directly involving caregivers and caregiver organizations in the development of these new programs, we help ensure their voices are heard and their needs are met as effectively as possible.
What is Respite Care and How Does It Help?
Respite programs provide temporary relief for caregivers to help alleviate the stress of their role and responsibilities. These programs take many forms and may include arrangements that provide care and companionship at home, in a traditional setting such as an adult day center, or involve more non-traditional programming such as art and dance programs at an art gallery.
Why are these programs important? Research shows that serving as a caregiver can have a significant impact on a person’s mental and physical wellbeing. Family caregivers are at higher risk than non-caregivers for emotional distress, depression, anxiety, social isolation, burnout, fatigue, and other negative physical and mental health effects. In fact, a report from the AARP Public Policy Institute showed that an estimated 17-35 percent of family caregivers view their health as fair to poor.
Respite programs aim to counteract these effects by providing caregivers the opportunity to rest, take care of their own needs and address feelings of isolation and burnout.
An Innovative, Collaborative Approach
As part of our commitment to supporting caregivers of older adults, we recently celebrated the kickoff of a new partnership project with the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation: the Communities Care WNY Family Caregiver Respite Pilot. The project aims to develop new programs to increase the opportunities for respite for caregivers of older adults in Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Wyoming counties by building innovative, community-informed teams and programs.
The goal of this project is to develop new and innovative networks, infrastructure and capacity for caregiver respite that result in more attractive, accessible and feasible respite opportunities for these communities.
The Oct. 28 kickoff brought caregivers and caregiver organizations together for the first of a series of workshops. The workshop sessions will give these groups the opportunity to learn and apply a technique known as Creative Problem Solving, a proven method for approaching challenges and opportunities in an imaginative and innovative way. By applying this approach, the teams will work together to develop new ways of increasing and improving community caregiver respite opportunities. The projects developed by these teams will be eligible for a Communities Care grant opportunity in early 2020.
Attendees of the Communities Care kickoff also had the opportunity to view Vital: A Fugue on Aging, a live performance by actors from Limelight, a Michigan-based theater company that uses performance as a story-telling and problem-solving tool. The performance illuminated many of the challenges faced by caregivers and is based on findings from a qualitative study, Vulnerable Older Adults & Caregivers in Washtenaw County by Abbie Lawrence-Jacobson, Ph.D., LMSW. You can learn more about Vital, and see videos of earlier performances, here.
Partnering with the Brookdale Foundation to Support New Respite Programs
As part of the Foundation’s ongoing work to improve the lives of family caregivers in the 16 counties we serve in western and central New York, we recently partnered with the Brookdale Foundation Group to provide grants to three organizations to develop new respite programs.
Through this partnership, we awarded funding to two agencies to develop local programs that will provide community-based respite care and other support services for grandparents or other relative caregivers caring for a child. Many grandparents in our community care for their grandchildren when the child’s parents cannot, for reasons as wide-ranging as addiction and incarceration to economic needs, and these caregivers face unique challenges.
The Foundation awarded the grants to Peoples Equal Action and Community Effort (PEACE, Inc.) of Syracuse, Onondaga County’s federally designated Community Action Agency, and the YMCA of the Twin Tiers of Olean, NY, and Bradford, PA, to develop their respite programs through the Brookdale Foundation Group’s national model, Relatives as Parents Program.
The National Group Respite Program and its specialized Early Memory Loss Program are community-based, social model day programs that provide dementia-specific group activities for participants and respite for family caregivers and care partners.
Caregivers deserve comprehensive support and resources so they can care for their own well-being while performing this selfless, compassionate work. We look forward to continuing to listen to and work with caregivers, and those in the community that serve them, to develop programs that meet their needs and help them live fuller, healthier lives.