by Lise Lapidus Grace
During “normal” times, our CARES program provides four hours a day of respite care for families affected by dementia. Those four hours are designed to be engaging for participants – and they provide a much-needed break for family caregivers. In the nearly two months that our program has been closed due to the pandemic, we’ve been checking in regularly with our family caregivers, supporting them in whatever way we can. The calls have reminded me what heroes our family caregivers are. Caring for someone with dementia can be difficult enough under the best of circumstances. Now, without respite care, often in isolation from supportive friends and family, many caregivers are on their own, 24/7.
On one recent call, a CARES participant’s daughter – I’ll call her “Stacy” – mentioned that her mom, “Rose,” was talking incessantly, making it difficult for Stacy to get anything done. I told Stacy I’d be happy to keep her mom engaged on the phone, if that would help. The next time I called Stacy to check in, she took me up on that offer. I chatted with Rose, but I was able to keep the conversation going for only 5-7 minutes before Rose insisted that her daughter take back the phone. Even so, Stacy told me she was amazed at how much she’d been able to accomplish in those few minutes of uninterrupted time.
Stacy and I talked for a few minutes more until Rose again wanted her attention. I offered to speak with Rose again. Rose didn’t remember that we’d already chatted that day, and I was able to provide Stacy another five minutes of respite. Rose and I had the exact same conversation that we’d had the first time, but she seemed to enjoy it – an example, I’m afraid, of when memory loss can work to a caregiver’s advantage.
In this time of isolation, finding 10 minutes to complete an important task is not a big deal for most of us. But for a dedicated daughter like Stacy, it was huge, and she was grateful. It breaks my heart to know that our small CARES staff and our army of devoted volunteers are not able, right now, to provide hours of uninterrupted time to our family caregivers. It also breaks my heart that we are not there to provide the cognitive, physical and social engagement our participants receive each week at CARES. But I am grateful to remain connected to our loving CARES community, and I’m grateful for even these small ways I can help.
Although the pandemic has forced CJFS to suspend in-person respite service, CARES is providing regular check-in calls, free virtual caregiver support groups and online sing-along songs w songbook, moverment & music exercise videos and art programs for participants and caregivers to enjoy at home. For more information, contact CARES Program Director Pam Leonard, LBSW, CDP, firstname.lastname@example.org