Community Involvement and the Elderly

So last week I promised you another long and well researched post once I got all of my resources in. Well they arrived and I have researched so hold on to your knickers because I’m super pumped about this post.

This post has next to nothing to do with LARCs (I know, but this is a blog, not a TV series so I can get away with less continuity). There’s a very important reason I’m jumping to talking about the elderly instead of contraceptives. I share an office with an Adult Protective Services worker. We’ve spent a lot of time together in the past four weeks being in the same space and she’s also taken me out to check in on a lot of her clients. So I’ve actively seen more elements of DSS that have to do with APS than just about anything else. It’s heartbreaking to be frank. Many of these people are elderly and disabled either mentally or physically or both and are living on obscenely small amounts of money. A lot of them don’t have people to care for them and even if they do, it’s almost impossible to work full time, make a living wage, and take care of an elderly person. Sometimes caregivers are paid caregivers but there are limits on hours, the pay is not awe inspiring, and there are still times when a care giver may need to be away from the client (such as grocery shopping). So what can be done?

Good news: I know of two relatively easy ways to make life easier for the elderly and particularly the disabled elderly.

Let’s start with the most average elderly people you can envision. There are a lot of them. And the population of elderly folk will continue to grow as the Baby Boomers age. This particular population is huge. Now add in to the mix that when people age, it’s common for memory problems to develop and for people to have issues like Alzheimer’s or some variety of Dementia. Even with in home care, it is possible for these individuals to leave home and find themselves in dangerous situations because they don’t know where they are or where they’re going. Sometimes these situations are made worse by other people or businesses calling the police to bring the person with Dementia home. I know these calls are made out of concern but when you don’t know where you are or you may even be in a different time and place in your mind, it is terrifying to be picked up by the police. Sometimes those with Dementia are a part of the work force and struggle with the early stages while they’re employed or they wish to continue being independent so they need a source of income which is very difficult with Dementia. This is Part One of what we can do:

Dementia friendly community and business trainings!

I personally think this is a wonderful and fairly simple thing that people can do to help elderly folk. The Alzheimer’s Society of the UK has a comprehensive manual that employers can download here. The Alzheimer’s Society of British Columbia has specific instructions for legal professionals, financial professionals, and housing professionals. And thanks to the Wisconsin Healthy Brain Initiative there is a manual that you yourself can read and the Alzheimer’s Association of America  has a PowerPoint you can download and then march on up to your local board of supervisors or mayor (or whoever is in charge where you live), slap it on their desk, and say “This is something our community needs!” Okay, I’m pretty sure that’s not how local government works but get your neighbors on your side and go to a board meeting or do a letter campaign and you could be making a serious impact on the elderly in your community.

“But Sadie, what about the elderly who don’t have Dementia? What about those with physical disabilities or other mental disabilities who need in-home care? How can we help them?” I hear you asking through your computer. Well, I’m glad you’re still with me and thinking ahead. You’re ready to move on to Part Two:

Respite Care!

Actually, you don’t even have to call it that but that’s the name with which I’m most familiar. Long story short, I’m the president of the Wesley Foundation at good ole W&M and we’re affiliated with the Williamsburg United Methodist Church. Well WUMC has a program called Respite Care that functions as an adult daycare so that elderly people who have someone looking after them can have some respite, hence the name. This is great so that caretaker can run errands or just prevent burn out and elderly folks can socialize and get out of the house. They based their program off of the initiative adopted by the United Methodist Church Commission on Disabilities in 2000. The way things work at WUMC is that they are open from 11:45 am to 5:00 pm and they take roughly 12 people a day. The cost is $50 and they have a trained and screened Care Team to look after everyone. They also allow student volunteers to come in and help out which helps foster a larger community of giving back.

If you can’t tell, I love this idea. You don’t have to be Methodist to do this. I’m not Methodist myself. I don’t event think you need to be brand loyal to Jesus to do something like this. I think it would be great if all churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, community organizations, honestly anybody that has building space and is dedicated to helping their community would develop a program like this. Some areas already have adult daycares and that’s great if they’re affordable. Some areas (like mine) don’t have anything like it except nursing homes or assisted living and those are more expensive than I had ever imagined. The Respite Director at WUMC very kindly sent me some information about how to start a similar program and I’m going to share it all with you.

Here’s a checklist that can be modified if necessary:

Please feel free to print this off!

Here’s the list of resources that the Virginia Conference Commission on Disabilities recommends:

For caregivers specifically

General Respite resources

If you have any other questions, let me know! Comment and share and all that jazz. I’ll certainly get back to you and if you have any specific questions about Respite or adult daycare, I can ask the Respite Director and my APS coworker.

More next week!

5 comments ↓

#1 Suzanne Raitt on 06.13.16 at 6:03 pm

Hi Sadie, me again. I love the focus of this post and the way you’ve written it – so engaging. Makes me want to read more and go out and do something! Lots in here made me think. It never occurred to me that calling the police might not be the best idea when I see someone who seems disoriented. It’s always hard to know what to do for the best so knowing there are trainings out there is really helpful. We have a neighbor with dementia and we have become very used to her out on the porch waiting to be picked up by a taxi (which is not coming – we know this because we are also friendly with her sister/caregiver). But if we did not know her – or if a passerby spotted her and got into conversation with her – it might be puzzling to know how to react. What you wrote about respite care reminded me of an initiative in my neighborhood in Washington, DC (and in other neighborhoods around the country), the Village Movement: http://www.vtvnetwork.org/. The idea is that communities organize themselves to support the elderly and others in the community who need help and support with transportation, shopping and other issues. Our friend started one in Chevy Chase and described both the challenges and the opportunities. A well functioning village is a self-regulating community. Especially if it is a stable community, people “pay it forward” and are then supported when they need help. On the other hand, the heavy reliance on volunteers means that villages work best in communities where there are already plenty of resources – people with money and time. Villages can never replace support systems that are designed to go directly and quickly to where the needs are – like the environment you’re working in, for example. I’m curious about what you think of the Villages idea.

#2 Sadie on 06.14.16 at 9:29 am

I love the Villages idea because I love the idea of a community coming together and deciding the needs of everyone are just as important as individual needs. When a community is strong, people can flourish. You do make a great point about relying on volunteers, though. My personal belief is that if you have the time and resources that they should be used for the betterment of society but that belief is not always shared by others nor does it help people in communities that lack large numbers of people with time and money. Working to make larger change (for the elderly or the disabled or any sort of disenfranchised group) is something that needs to be approached from a personal level as well as a state government or national government level. If people aren’t acting out the belief that they want to provide support to those who need it then how can any form of government believe they have support for policies and if the government does not implement policies to affect long term change then how are individuals supposed to sustain any of their individual ways of helping others? That’s part of the reason I brought up ways to personally help the elderly as well as ways of reaching local government. All parts of the system need to support one another for anything to work.

#3 Gul Ozyegin on 06.14.16 at 2:23 am

Dear Saddie,
As you know, I am in Goa, India right now. Just read your posts. Thanks so much for doing lots of important work this summer. I love the way you think, act, and write. Continue with the great work! Gul

#4 Sadie on 06.14.16 at 9:45 am

Gul, it is so wonderful to hear from you! Thank you for your kind words; I’m very happy with this internship. I can’t wait to hear about how the program in Goa is going. I’m sure everyone is making the most of it.

#5 Suzanne Raitt on 06.27.16 at 12:04 pm

Sadie, you are so right about the resources – both personal and professional – that are needed for successful volunteering. Ideally, government and communities work together to create sustainable programs but in reality, so often they seem to work independently – or voluntary organizations step in where the government is failing. I’ve always wondered if this creates a disincentive for government to act further – the idea that it’s now being taken care of. Of course, most voluntary organizations are continually advocating for increased government resources and attention to their issue, which helps a lot.

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