Being a caregiver for a loved one can be a stressful part of life, and those caregivers need to feel supported as well, said Amber Chapman.
Chapman serves as the family caregiver and health promotions specialist for the High Country Area Agency of Aging. In the last year, the agency revamped a statewide Family Caregiver Support Program for the local seven-county region. The program can help provide home safety assessments, incontinence supplies, resources for food nutrition and assistance with questions.
“If you’re not a caregiver now, you either were, will be or will need one,” Chapman said.
To be eligible for the program, the caregiver must be unpaid and the person being cared for must be 60 years or older as well as need help with two activities of daily living — such as bathing, eating and toileting. Chapman said typically a person will contact the agency with a request, and she will meet with the caregiver to discuss their needs to better care for their loved one.
“I really think this program puts into perspective for the caregiver that someone is here to help you, someone is here for you, you are not lost and you are not hopeless,” Chapman said. “We are ready and willing to help.”
For home safety assessments, Chapman said she uses a form and conducts a walk-through of the inside and outside of a home with the caregiver to assess any safety concerns. Afterwards she and the caregiver will discuss options to help make the home safer. For example, she said if a home needs a ramp, she could discuss with a client where to obtain one.
The support program also offers caregiver directed respite vouchers; vouchers can offer a caregiver $500 to find a person of their choice to come in and take care of their loved one. If a caregiver would like a respite voucher, Chapman said the caregiver would find a person and then discuss how much they would pay the person per hour per day. The Family Caregiver Support Program would then reimburse the caregiver for up to $500 — this amount typically lasts up to three months.
These vouchers are only available to caregivers once per year, but she said the program could offer other options or help the caregiver apply for a lifespan respite voucher. Chapman also said that the program is not a home care agency, and does not have in-home aides on hand. However, the agency can direct a caregiver to a home care agency if needed.
“I think this program for me has brought to light how much help our caregivers do need and how many times they’ve put themselves on the back burner,” Chapman said. “Someone just being there for you, that can make all of the difference in the world.”
The program is federally and state funded, and Chapman said she keeps a detailed case load of caregivers and conducts check-ins with them every six months to a year once they get the services they need. The program has served 11 caregivers since it was launched around April or May, according to Chapman. It has also conducted about 15 technical assistance calls each week when community members have questions about where to find resources, requests for home-delivered meals or inquiries about the program’s fall prevention classes.
For more information on the Family Caregiver Support Program, visit www.highcountryaging.org/services/family-caregiver-support-program, or call Chapman at (828) 265-5434 extension 113.
Discussions of how the program would operate took place late last year when the High Country Caregiver Foundation — now the High Country Caregivers — was restructuring. The organization operated under the umbrella of the High Country Area Agency of Aging, and is now its own standalone not-for-profit. The Family Caregiver Support Program and the High Country Caregivers have since been partnering with each other to identify the best ways to provide but not duplicate services.
High Country Caregivers Executive Director Jacob Willis explained that the organization offers financial, emotional and educational support for grandparents or relatives caring for children. He said the vast majority of the clients the organization supports are 68 to 80 years old. Last year, High Country Caregivers served 122 grandparents and approximately 250 children.
“I think the grandparents raising grandchildren is a direct result of the opioid crisis,” Willis said. “The parents are unable — because of this epidemic — to raise their kids.”
The organization offers support groups for kinship navigation in Wilkes, Watauga and Avery counties with a combined group in Mitchell and Yancey counties. This group is for grandparents, aunts, uncles or other family members having to care for children that are not their own, he said.
“Our groups offer support and community where they find out they’re not alone,” Willis said. “There’s a lot of shame involved in this for grandparents sometimes in feeling like it’s their fault. There’s a lot of different people from different walks of life that experience this.”
The Watauga County Relatives As Parents support group meets the last Monday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon at the Lois E. Harrill Senior Center.
High Country Caregivers also offers legal support to help caregivers navigate the judicial and Department of Social Services systems. The organization will visit the home of the guardian to do an assessment to be able to meet the family’s needs — such as heating for the winter or clothes, diapers and beds for the children.
“When you’re 65, 70, 80 years old, you don’t really expect to be raising a kid and you don’t have that stuff readily available,” Willis said. “Many of these grandparents are on a fixed income or below the poverty line. Many of them are dependent on Medicare and Social Security. That’s where we come in to offer support. Our goal is to help those kids have a life just like every other kid, to have the same opportunities as other kids.”
High Country Caregivers has also put funding toward paying for school trips, summer camps, dance classes or recreation fees for children. Willis added that the organization can provide outlets for the children to play, to allow the grandparents to get some rest.
Starting the beginning of next year, High Country Caregivers plans to offer an opportunity called “Play Me a Memory” for those with early memory loss. The group is based on cognitive therapy through poetry and music, and is for anyone diagnosed with early onset dementia or early memory loss. Along with these classes will be a support group for caregivers of those with early memory loss that meets once a month at the Lois E. Harrill Senior Center.
The group currently meets in Yancey County, and the opportunity will expand to Watauga County with the help of Appalachian State University. The Watauga Play Me a Memory group will be offered at the Beaver College of Health Sciences.