Being a family caregiver to a parent, senior loved one or spouse can be difficult, draining and thankless. Yet more than 40 million people in the United States take on unpaid caregiving duties, according to the United States Department of Labor. Fortunately, caregivers may be able to tap into a network that can help lighten the caregiving load: community volunteers.
Learn more about how family caregivers can benefit from community volunteers.
Before Mary Kress of Stillwater, Minnesota, found respite volunteers, getting out of the house was rare due to her husband Ken’s dementia and tremors. She even neglected her own doctors’ appointments because she didn’t want to leave Ken at home alone, fearing he might fall.
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“My family is helpful but can’t be here 24/7,” says Kress, who now gets a chance to go out, lunch with friends, shop or simply take a break twice a week, thanks to respite volunteers through FamilyMeans, a community services organization headquartered in Stillwater. FamilyMeans matches respite volunteers with family caregivers all over Washington County, Minnesota, says Sarah Adams, an aging and caregiving social worker at the organization.
“Caregivers get so consumed with the role that they can’t get out of the house. They become emotionally-isolated,” says Adams.
“Respite volunteers give the caregiver hope that he or she can sustain the caregiving role and not get burned out.”
No matter the size of your community (Stillwater has a population of only 20,000), there’s a good chance you can find volunteers to help with household tasks, maintenance and respite.
To find volunteer resources in your area, contact local agencies on aging or senior centers, which can refer you to volunteer organizations that serve older adults. You can also perform an online search for local and national organizations with volunteer networks.
Meanwhile, here are four national volunteer organizations to help get you started:
Elder Helpers is a nationwide organization with more than 30,000 volunteers, matching people in your community with family caregivers and older adults who need help remaining independent. The free service allows volunteers to register in its database and family caregivers needing help can pull up available volunteers’ profiles by zip code. Caregivers must create a free account to log in and contact volunteer caregivers directly. Elder Helpers screen volunteers through a phone interview and an identity check and will conduct background checks upon request.
The VAVS program, offered by many local VA hospitals, supports veterans and primary caregivers of veterans through its Volunteer Support Network. Volunteers visit homebound veterans once or twice a week to provide a respite break for caregivers. Volunteers can engage the care recipient in conversation, listen to music together, watch movies or just sit with the person while the caregiver gets out to socialize or recharge. For information on a Volunteer Support Program in your area, call the nearest veterans hospital in your community.
Senior Corps is a network of national service programs for Americans 55 years and older that are administered through local or state agencies and organizations. Volunteers with Senior Corps’ Senior Companions program may provide companionship, help around the house or with running errands, as well as transportation. For more information or to find a Senior Companion program in your community, visit Senior Companions or call the National Service Hotline at 1-800-942-2677.
Volunteers of America (VOA) has affiliate programs around the U.S. that provide services and programs promoting health and independence for older adults. VOA provides senior centers and day programs, home repair and homemaker services, information and referral, Meals on Wheels and group meal programs. For more information, visit VOA’s website and search for affiliate offices by zip code or on the locator map.
Since Kress began receiving volunteer respite services three years ago, she’s able to get out more often, knowing that Ken is in good hands while she’s gone. Now she’s got time to also attend to her own doctors’ appointments and health, she says.
Once a week, Sam, a volunteer with FamilyMeans, stays at the house from mid-morning to early afternoon to play cards or just visit with Ken. Every Friday, Kress drops Ken off at FamilyMeans for group respite, a four-hour session where volunteers play games and music and socialize with participants.
“It does amazing things for both of us,” says Kress of the respite time. “It stimulates him and I have more patience now that I’m able to get away and have a break.”
Have you benefited or received respite from community volunteers? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.