Alzheimer’s disease is now among the top 10 diseases in the United States. People who care for someone with dementia or a cognitive disorder know all too well the demands on time, energy and more.
Often isolation and loneliness make their way into the lives of caregivers who need a break. Respite, or a short period of rest or relief from caregiving, is sorely needed for those who often juggle a weighty mix of financial cost, guilt, social isolation, and worsening health. For Orange County residents, there is good news.
The Orange County Department on Aging has launched Orange County Cares (Caregiver Awareness, Respite, Education and Support), to help care partners and those affected by moderate to severe dementia. OC Cares is a comprehensive approach to help individuals in their home setting, in care partner quality of life support groups, and by offering opportunities for connection, respite and community involvement.
Care Partner Respite is now offered one day a week at the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill, and the Passmore Center in Hillsborough. The program is for people with moderate to severe dementia or related cognitive disorders and is limited to 10 participants at each site. OC Cares and the Care Partner Respite program, are funded by the Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative: Specialized Support Services grant awarded to the Department on Aging this past September.
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Staffed by Alzheimer’s Federation of America certified social workers and occupational therapists, the program will help identify meaningful activities such as music and art, which can enhance existing memory. Additionally, staff will assist care partners in finding ways to integrate successful activities into the home setting.
Care partners are invited to attend with their care recipients or take the time off. They will receive feedback, techniques and education based on their loved one’s experience and results at the program. Staff will help identify ways to achieve positive experiences and replace stress with success, for both the care partner and care recipient. One caregiver told me, “Once I learned to be right where my mother was, we enjoyed our relationship. Then, to my surprise, I learned to be right there in my own life.”
Every person with cognitive impairment has his or her unique way of relating to the world. A main goal of the Care Partner Respite program is to connect with the uniqueness of each participant. For example, a woman who was an avid sports fan was anxious after visiting nurse meetings where she was repeatedly questioned about showering. As soon as the nurse left, we would tidy up and launch into a robust rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Her anxiety disappeared almost instantly. Not only was she enjoying herself, but she was also strengthening memories of times past.
The Care Partner Respite Program will have activity areas, including art, painting, and individually tailored activities designed to enhance a feeling of success. For instance, the daughter of one participant mentioned that her father was quite the poker player in his day. A deck of cards now awaits him at the respite program. Two other participants have expressed interest in baking. Our occupational therapist is ready, with pans, mixes, spoons and muffin tins.
To enroll in the Care Partner Respite Program, or any support services, please call the Aging Transitions helpline at 919-968-2087.
Carol Wise, MSW, is a certified dementia professional and group respite coordinator with Orange County Department on Aging. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.