A helping hand for caregivers

Linda Olson, right, coordinator of the Shenandoah Agency on Aging's Our Place respite program in Edinburg, leads participants and volunteers in hand strengthening exercises on Wednesday. From left are volunteer Vera Blum and participants Becky Wolverton and Evelyn Sager. Josette Keelor/Daily

EDINBURG — In the fellowship hall of St. John’s United Methodist Church of Edinburg, a respite program called Our Place provides activities for area residents experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Participants benefit from the group setting, and their caregivers get some needed time to themselves, said Suzie Grubb, program director and long-term care ombudsman, who advocates for individuals on home health care and in-home nurses through the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services.

The program has four active participants, but Program Coordinator Linda Olson said there’s room for at least twice as many. Unfortunately, she said, caregivers tend to wait longer than they need to before seeking help caring for a loved one suffering from a degenerative illness.

But Grubb knows they’re out there. “You have to wait a little bit longer for them to realize, oh we can help them,” she said.

Organized through the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging, Our Place also meets in Clarke County at 110 N. Church St., Berryville. The program used to meet in Front Royal, too, but Grubb said participation dropped too low to keep it going.

Jenny Holler, left, a participant of the Shenandoah Agency on Aging's Our Place respite program in Edinburg, talks with program director and ombudsman Suzie Grubb in a Wednesday session. Josette Keelor/Daily

The program in Edinburg began 10 years ago at the former Edinburg School before moving to Union Forge UMC and, in January 2014, to St. John’s at 116 S. High St.

There participants meet from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, where two paid staff members and three volunteers lead them in a series of engaging activities that stimulate their minds and bodies and help them maintain a daily routine.

On Wednesday, the day began with a mid-morning snack before Olson led the group in determining the date and the day’s weather conditions. Next, they enjoyed the progress of various plants they have been growing before moving on to a math challenge of adding in their minds numbers Olson showed them on flash cards.

Then they had a short workout, stretching hands and fingers and later lifting homemade hand weights made from sand added to glass jars.

Sitting around the rectangular table in an enclosure befitting their size, they had room to move around while still enjoying the intimate space. But at mealtimes and for larger activities, the group also uses the fellowship hall’s larger main room, which includes a kitchen and seating for many more visitors.

St. John’s UMC and Wesley Chapel UMC also use the fellowship hall, so Olson said she appreciates having that space available each week for Our Place.

“We are so fortunate, and I’m here to tell you, it’s unbelievable how they take care of us,” Olson said.

In addition to regular volunteers, she said St. John’s church organist and former organist also give of their time, providing music for the program on Fridays and the third Thursday of each month.

The cost of attending Our Place depends on a participant’s income and is decided on a sliding scale, Grubb said. At the most, she said, it costs $25 a day, or $5 an hour, and the rest is paid through the Agency on Aging and through grants from DARS and from Shenandoah County.

Participants are welcome to come as often as they like.

“They gel really well as a group,” Grubb said. “And that’s what’s so great about the program, because it is for them.”

But Olson stressed it’s also for the caregivers.

“When you think about it, never being able to go to lunch, never being able to have any personal time,” she said.

“Yes,” Grubb agreed, “this is what we’re for.”

For information on Our Place Shenandoah, call 540-325-3591, or Our Place Clarke, call 540-247-6309. Contact the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging at 540-635-7141 or visit http:/www.shenandoahaaa.com.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com