Center is a lifeline for Southeast caregivers

Services range from respite care to toll-free call in support group meetings

After the National Family Caregiver Support Act was passed by U.S. Congress in 2000, the Senior and Caregiver Resource Center based in Juneau began offering caregiver-specific resources to elders and their families throughout Southeast Alaska. As per the Act, the center provides five different levels of service: 1) information, 2) assistance, 3) counseling, training and support groups, 4) respite care and 5) supplemental services, according to Marianne Mills, Southeast Senior Services (SESS) director.

"The goal is to help support those caring for older loved ones so as they are able to continue keeping their elders in the home for as long as possible," said Mills. "Caregivers can burn out really fast, and it's important that they stay healthy."

The information level includes assistance on finding what services are available throughout the Southeast region, for both the caregiver and the senior, in order to make the caregiver's job simpler. Interested parties can call the toll-free number to be connected with Ian Niecko, Family Caregiver Support Advocate at SESS.

"The number is good statewide, although the resources we offer are only available to residents of Southeast Alaska," Niecko said. "But if you're not sure about services unique to your area, we can point you in the right direction."

The assistance level includes helping the caregiver complete applications or navigating how to enroll an older Alaskan in Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan.

"There's so many different applications, forms and processes," said Mills. "It's more than just giving out a phone number. We provide them with detailed aid when completing the forms."

The program also offers a plethora of counseling and support groups, including call-in caregiver support teleconferences and individual counseling.

"Caregivers and seniors can meet with Masters level counselors on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis," said Niecko. "And we offer sessions in the office as well as home visits."

The call-in support group meets the second Thursday of each month, with the next teleconference taking place July 13. Caregivers can call the center's toll-free number ahead of time to receive the teleconference number from Niecko.

"The call in caregiver support meetings are great for advice from peers," said Mills. "They're usually run by participants bringing up common issues like being worried about Mom driving, and the other caregivers can share information on how they dealt with that."

The center also offers a Family Parkinson's Support Group for seniors with Parkinson's and their loved ones, facilitated by Tammy Guiler, LMSW, the last Tuesday of every month from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m at the Juneau Pioneers Home.

Additionally, the center provides training opportunities for caregivers, including training workshops during November's Family Caregiver Support month and access to a large lending library.

"We are able to mail items throughout the area and can include prepaid postage to return them," said Julie DeLong, Home and Community Based Services Regional Coordinator at SESS. "We have DVDs, books and many other resources helpful to a caregiver."

The respite care portion of the program focuses on giving the caregiver a break, whether they need time alone to take a nap or see a movie, said Mills.

"We have connections with different agencies that will provide these services in the home to give the caregiver a much needed break," she added.

Supplemental services allow caregivers to receive more creative and miscellaneous support through grants provided by the federal government that are passed down through the state level and on to the center and other nonprofits in the Southeast, DeLong said.

"For example, we had a caregiver without money to fix their glasses, but we were able to find them a grant to provide them with the funds to fix them," said DeLong. "Another caregiver was about to have their phone disconnected, and they only needed one month's payment to restore it. We were able to find them grant money to keep their phone going."

Starting July 1, funding for the respite and supplemental services provided by the center will be regenerated for FY18, added DeLong.

"However, there is currently a waitlist," she said. "Once we get more information from the State we can call people and let them know the funds are available."

Additionally, the recently hired Niecko has begun to reach out to communities throughout Southeast for more feedback on the types of services caregivers in the area would like to see.

"We planned a caregiver support meet and greet in Wrangell and Petersburg for June 19 and 20 to get to know the seniors in the area," Niecko said. "We want to provide support for caregivers or providing unpaid care for a senior."

"Our services will continue to be guided by the caregivers in our area," added DeLong. "Niecko is comfortable with going where he sees the need."

The Senior and Caregiver Resource Center's toll-free number is 1-866-746-6177.

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