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LIFE ASSISTEDLIVING 6 CH
Knight Ridder photo A senior caregiver massages the leg of a resident at Preston House, an assisted living center in Charlotte, N.C., that caters to people with Alzheimer’s. Caregiver support programs, as well as respite care, have been continuing to grow all over the United States since there are expected to be more elderly people in the next 10 years than ever before.

Sue Bailey and Joan Grauman are glad their offices are just down the hall from each other.

Bailey, caregiver support coordinator of the Yellowstone County Council on Aging, and Grauman, development administrator of Support and Tech-niques for Empowering People, or STEP, Inc., work hand in hand to provide support for local senior citizens and their families.

Bailey has been with the Council on Aging for the past six years and recalls a Gazette story last November about how caregivers can get help for themselves.

“We’re really the services that those people need,” she explained.

The Older Americans Act of 2000 was in recognition of the growing elderly population across the United States. It created the National Family Caregiver Program, which spurred the Council on Aging to create the local Caregiver Support Program.State statisticsThe program is just a start to answer statistics such as: Between now and 2025, Montana’s elderly population will grow to 20 percent of the state’s population; the number of seniors more than 85 years old will double; and 66 percent of all seniors will depend solely on family and friends for caregiving, another 25 percent supplement family care with paid assistance.

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More Info The Yellowstone County Council on Aging is sponsoring a new program, "Whom do you Ask, Where do you Go," which will address the following topics: "Caregiver support program - accessing services," "Three types of reverse annuity mortgage plans" and "How to be a good medical consumer." The forum begins today from 1:30-4 p.m. at the Elks Club, 934 Lewis Ave., and is free to the public.

Caregiver Support Program is available for seniors, their families and friends. The program assists in finding the appropriate services so the senior can remain at home. An elderly person may just need a few simple things, such as lunch from Meals on Wheels once or twice a week, or someone to help with laundry or cleaning.

“We’ll do an initial interview so I get an idea about what sort of services this person might need,” said Bailey. “Then I can tell them about programs like the Meals on Wheels, transportation programs or other agencies they can contact.”

The Council on Aging is associated with not only Meals on Wheels, which delivers in the Billings, Laurel and Worden areas, but with the Senior Dinner Program, which offers noon meals along with education and companionship at several sites; the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, transportation services and minor home repair.

Bailey also finds herself answering seniors’ questions about Medicare and Medicaid and helping to fill out forms. Through the program, she can assist with senior housing options, in-home care services and other medical billing questions.

“We can help the decipher the Greek,” she said. “They can call me and I help find answers to very specific questions. If it’s something I don’t know, I can certainly find out. I learn new things myself every day.”

Bailey said the program cuts stress for both the senior citizens and their caregivers.

“We help cut down on the wondering, we know about lots of services available through the state that most people just aren’t aware of,” she said. “And there’s lots out there for caregivers, too. They’ll try and do it all and they really don’t have to.”

Qualifying for the Caregiver Support Program is easy; the person needs to be more than 60 years old and live in Yellowstone County. Bailey emphasized that the service is not limited to the senior citizen, but available to anyone who is concerned about an elderly family member or friend.Lifespan Respite and STEPGrauman has worked with STEP for the past 14 years. Typically an organization that works with disabled children, she said STEP has been involved with Lifespan Respite after grants were received a few years ago to start pilot respite projects in the Billings and Miles City areas. STEP began offering respite services in July 1999, and, because of its success, a federal grant was awarded the following year to fund expansions.

Lifespan Respite is now a community-based program developed through the Council on Aging, Home and Community-Based Services, Senior Helping Hands, Region III Developmental Disabilities Program and Child and Family Services.

Respite, which isn’t limited to assisting seniors, helps families caring for a relative with disabilities, including chronic illnesses, mental illnesses or Alzheimer’s. Respite workers come into the home to care for that person, giving other family members more time to themselves. The respite care can be a few hours a day or a few hours a week.

“When you’re under stress, it makes care-taking that much more difficult,” Grauman said. “Taking a break enables caregivers to put things in perspective and take care of themselves.”

According to studies through the National Caregivers Alliance, one in three people will be directly responsible for caring for a friend or family member during an extended illness. Respite has been proven to reduce stress, enhance family preservation and support and prevent abuse and neglect. Up to two-thirds of caregivers report physical or mental health problems as a result of their caregiving. A National Family Caregivers Association survey found that while 70 percent of respondents had “an inner strength they didn’t know they had,” the majority reported having more headaches, stomach disorders, back pain, sleeplessness and depression.

Grauman pointed out that those numbers show the need for respite programs.

“Respite here was a pretty fragmented service until about three years ago,” Grauman said. “But there’s been a need recognized for respite providers. Respite is such a big thing. In the next 10 years, 54 percent of the population is expected to be caring for someone else.”

A large portion of the job for the STEP office is getting cross referrals from the Council on Aging, screening both families who need respite care and respite care workers, then matching them up. The families are then responsible for setting up payment arrangements with the workers.

Grauman said one of the biggest dilemmas is finding enough respite workers to make the matches. Each worker is sent through an orientation, then trained on a different topic, such as grief and loss or lifting and transferring a patient, each month.

“There’s just always a great need for respite providers,” she added.

Grauman said Lifespan Respite has provided support to more than 200 families in Billings and surrounding communities since 1999.

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