Group respite program offers help to families

Linda Olson, coordinator of respite care at Our Place, cheers on Geri Brain of Maurertown, during a game of foot soccer. Rich Cooley/Daily

EDINBURG – The Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging operates a group respite program — Our Place Shenandoah — for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

The program has been operating out of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Edinburg for the past 2 1/2 years and provides activities and socialization for area residents with various physical and mental handicaps, and allows the caregiver to have a few hours of free time to relax.

Charity Michael, Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging care manager, said those running the program are excellent.

“They are very professional and they know what they’re doing. We also have a great group of volunteers,” Michael said.

Linda Olson, respite coordinator, said five residents are part of the program and come from Basye, Mauretown, Edinburg and Toms Brook. Previous members have also been from Mount Jackson.

“If they would come, we’re here,” she said.

Geri Brain, of Maurertown, tosses the ball during a bucket ball activity at Our Place. Rich Cooley/Daily

“It’s a two-fold program,” she said. “The caregivers bring their people to us and leave them here for five hours, and then they have five hours of respite. Then for those with the dementia or Alzheimer’s, it provides them with excellent socialization and stimulation, and a different environment. It gives them a lot of activities to do that they may not do at home.”

Activities for participants are provided and include crafts, cooking, exercise and music.

Olson added that safety is a priority for the program.

“Safety is huge for us. That’s one of the biggest things in the program and I think that’s more reassuring to a caregiver, if I bring my person here, they will be safe,” she said.

There is also no age restriction for the program. The youngest program participant is 43 years old.

Jenny Holler, left, of Toms Brook, launches a successful shot during a game of bucket ball at Our Place, a respite care program for dementia patients in Edinburg. The program is located in the basement of St. Johns United Methodist Church. Rich Cooley/Daily

“This is such a unique disease, the Alzheimer’s and the dementia. It’s being recognized much earlier then what it was,” Olson said.

Michael added, “Intermixing the ages is a positive thing for everyone involved. You have your seniors, but a 40 year old brings a different perspective and a different dynamic to the group. It’s beneficial to everybody.”

Program participants meet from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. three days a week on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The SAAA recently was awarded a $2,000 grant to cover the cost of keeping Our Place open on the third day. The extra day was added two years ago with similar grant funding.

Michael said the program is about the caregiver as much as it is about the participant.

“The program is all about making sure the caregiver does not have burnout,” she said, adding that caregivers are tasked with a huge workload to take care of themselves, their family, the household, as well as being responsible at all times for the individual with the disability.

“Everything is on them all the time,” she said. “There are too many caregivers that are keeping their people home too long. They are trying to do it all. It never ends and it’s not fair to the caregiver.”

To become a part of the program, Michael conducts a home visit and assessment to determine if the program is a good fit for everyone involved.

There is a sliding scale fee to participate in the program, with the highest cost being $25 per day, and lunch is provided.

“For five hours, you’re not going to find a good caregiver like we are for $5 an hour,” Olson said.

In order to accommodate more participants, the group would like to find funding to purchase a larger space to allow more people to join the program and provide more activities. On their wishlist is a site that has an enclosed outside space as well as an area for those who may need an afternoon nap.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com