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“How can I sum up WestMass ElderCare’s Family Caregiver Support Services? We helped to give a caregiver her life back.

Before I became WMEC’s Family Caregiver Specialist, I was a Care Manager in the Home Care Department. One of my consumers from South Hadley was caring for her aging mother, and it was taking a toll on her. In addition to being visibly exhausted, she opened up to me, saying, ‘I don’t know if I can keep doing this. I’ve lost my job, I have no hobbies, I can’t spend time with my partner, and it’s really straining us.’

I immediately referred her to WMEC’s Family Caregiver Services to assist her in the areas she felt she was struggling. While she improved in the short term, it wasn’t until one of our check-ins a year and a half later that I saw what we really did for her.

‘Sara, I feel like I have a life again. I can do hobbies, and my partner and I are going on a trip! Thank you so much.’

I always think about her. I’m so glad I could make an impact on her life.”

— Sara Colegrove, Family Caregiver Specialist

A Crisis in Caregiving

According to the 2015 study from National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 43.5 million caregivers have supported someone in the last 12 months. With daily life becoming more demanding, and an increasing number of people needing assistance, care providers are finding it more difficult to support their loved ones in meaningful, tangible ways. Many caregivers work full time and support their children while managing their caregiving-related responsibilities as well as other duties of daily life. Sadly, many report that they are unable to give their aging parents the time and energy they need. For those stressed and time-crunched caregivers out there, WMEC’s Family Caregiver Support Services (FCS) can offer counseling and resources to keep both caregivers and care recipients feeling healthy and supported.

How Do Family Caregiver Support Services Help?

FCS can provide caregivers and their loved ones with a variety of resources and services, including financial assistance, mobility resources (ramps, grab bars, etc.), meal delivery, or in-home assistance. FCS can also help caregivers access social connections for seniors who need companionship, emotional support, or engagement. For example, WMEC’s programs have helped older adults who experienced isolation, anxiety, and depression by providing them with Companion Pets. These life-sized, animatronic dogs and cats offer comfort without the responsibility of caring for a live animal. Other consumers have enjoyed puzzles, books, and tools to knit or crochet in order to help them stay active and happy.

FCS can help outside the home, too. Our Family Caregiver Specialist, Sara, can alert caregivers about “flexible grants” to assist with unique needs, offer counseling, and connect them to caregiving-related educational opportunities and support groups.

What to Expect from a Family Caregiver Specialist

What is it like to connect with a Family Caregiver Specialist? It’s important to know that we always meet caregivers where they are in their lives. During the initial intake session, Sara meets with caregivers, and together they work to make an accurate assessment of the caregiver’s current workload, the care recipient’s needs, their resources, and more. From the assessment, we can define needs and goals. After the initial meeting, Sara regularly counsels caregivers and troubleshoots their problems. Additionally, she advocates for caregivers’ needs, helps apply for special funding, and coordinates with other WMEC departments and services.

All Caregivers Deserve Support

Older adults don’t just receive support. They provide it, too! An American Community Survey from 2018 noted that over 2.5 million grandparents are primary caregivers of grandchildren or others with whom they share a similar relationship. Family Caregiver Support Services recognize the vital role that older adults play in their families’ lives, and are designed to help them feel supported and successful in this role.

FCS are available to adults over 55 caring for grandchildren or to adults ages 18-59 with disabilities. They provide access to resources for medical and emotional support, materials, and funds. Funding can go to enriching engagements and gifts. For example, one consumer applies every year so his grandson has gift cards to Hot Topic and the Holyoke Mall. Additionally, older caregivers can access a state-wide support group, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren for further connections and assistance.

How to Support the Caregivers in Your Life

“If you see something, say something!”

— Sara Colegrove

Older adults, family, friends, and neighbors have many options to support the caregivers in their lives. If someone you know seems very stressed, exhausted, or otherwise in need of help, you can reach out to WMEC on their behalf. Sara will contact them and help them find the supports they need.

For those who want to take a more active role, the best thing you can do for caregivers is to check in and have a conversation. By creating a human connection, you can help caregivers de-stress, seek advice, and find time for themselves. This refreshes their emotions and energy levels, often allowing them to return to their duties with renewed vigor. To take this even further, people can offer to help with chores and outside duties or to provide respite care for their care recipient so they can take much-needed breaks.

For more ways to support caregivers, especially around the holiday season, check out our blog! Looking to connect with help today? Give WMEC a call, we’re here for you.