By Laraib Asim
SUNY Plattsburgh’s Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver Support Initiative celebrated in mid April the approval of a $8.25 million grant from the New York State Department of Health. The grant allows Caregiver Support to expand a series of free programs aimed for caregivers and people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia.
The official website lists the mission of this initiative: “Our goal is to reduce caregiver financial, emotional and physical distress. The long term benefit would be to improve caregiver health and quality of life, which results in a reduction in care receiver emergency visits and delayed or avoided institutional placement.”
The initiative was set up in 2016. At the time, the State Department of Health had approved a $7.5 million grant, which was used to set up various free services across six counties: Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Warren and Washington. The main services provided include care consultations, education programs, community outreach and support groups that take place every Tuesday. In Clinton County, the support group is organized in various locations including Sibley Hall, located at the far end of the college campus.
Memory cafes provide a warm, welcoming environment to families who are caregivers of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia. They have been available for use in Plattsburgh, Queensbury, Malone and Keene Valley throughout northeast New York since 2017.
“The memory cafes provide time for a caregiver and care receiver to spend time together through music, dancing, craft activities and meeting other families. It is important for caregivers to realize they are not alone in their caregiving journey,” Kimberly Comisky, the assistant program director, said.
Care receivers are entertained and feel safe in a relaxed environment, and caregivers have the opportunity to share their experience and advice with other caregivers.
Another service that Caregiver Support provides is project lifesaver. This is a service wherein a transmitter that emits radio frequencies is attached to the care receiver. It is used to locate any missing patient that may have wandered off by the Sheriff’s department.
The Caregiver Support’s most popular service is called respite care.
“We provide a service where we have independent contractors that work with us and they go in and agree to provide care and we pay those respite providers, so that the caregivers are allowed a break to do whatever they want,” Valarie Drown, the project director at the Caregiver Support and a caregiver herself, said.
She highlighted the importance of mental breaks that caregivers should receive. Caregivers are dedicating their time and effort to care for a loved one, but at times, they can be emotionally overwhelmed. This service exists to prevent issues such as a delay in admission to a nursing home or poor care management that can stress both the parties.
“My grandfather passed away years ago from Alzheimer’s Disease, and my mother, his caregiver, was alone in providing care with limited guidance and support. These services are in place to alleviate some of the burden that caregivers are carrying,” Comisky said.
After working on an additional grant request since July 2021 and submitting this request in October 2021, the Caregiver Support now includes additional resources that are focused on helping those who are underserved. This includes the economically disadvantaged and those who reside in rural areas and are struggling because of lack of resources. The caregiver wellness support service is a huge addition to the services provided. It allows caregivers to take care of themselves for example by joining a gym or taking a yoga class.
The Caregiver Support functions under the SUNY Research Foundation of SUNY Plattsburgh. Their main forms of advertisement includes social media platforms, setting up ads in local newspapers of various small towns and participating in public events to increase awareness of the program so that those in need can reach out to them.
“We have a lot of very rural pockets [to reach out to]. From what we have been told from talking to New York State, they cannot believe the numbers of families that we are able to reach,” Drown said.
More than 6,000 unduplicated caregivers received these services in the region from April 2016 to December 2020.