Leslie Menges puts in a 156-hour work week, every week, without pay, sick leave, holidays, or vacation time. She is on top of her game every waking hour and on call during the 42 hours a week that she sleeps. She thought she could do this job on her own—she is a retired nurse, after all. It has turned out to be the hardest job she’s ever held.
“There are so many dynamics to caregiving,” said Leslie. “I thought I could do this. But I need help. I need a support group and I need breaks. I do the job that my husband, Dallas, and I used to do as a couple, along with the stress of having the person I love suffering from Alzheimer’s. It takes its toll.”
Fortunately, help is available to caregivers like Leslie, pictured (above) at right with Dallas. She joined one of SourcePoint’s family caregiver support groups and turned to another program, Senior Companions, which dispatches volunteers over 55 to visit with fellow seniors. These weekly visits provide lonely seniors with companionship and caregivers with short bursts of respite.
Dallas’ senior companion visits with him once a week for two hours. He has a knack for drawing Dallas out and engaging him in conversation. Though this relationship has been successful, it can be tough to leave a loved one in another person’s hands. “We have to trust who comes into our home,” said Leslie. “It takes time to build a relationship and no time to destroy it.”
Senior Companions is a federal program that recruits volunteers over age 55 who meet the income bracket of 200 percent of the poverty level or less. These volunteers are given extensive training and a modest stipend for their service of at least 15 hours a week. They visit weekly with a minimum of three clients and receive mileage and meal reimbursement. It’s a win-win situation for both the client and the companion, but the demand for companions is higher than the number of available volunteers who meet the program’s criteria.
To help offset the demand for short-term respite care, SourcePoint supports the Senior Companion program through grant funding, and recruits its own volunteers, Caregiver Relief Companions.
SourcePoint volunteer Don Brooker has a full-time career, but finds the flexibility of this volunteer position works around his schedule. He visits with his senior client, a man in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, two or three times a month, mostly on the weekends. The gentlemen particularly enjoy playing cards together or watching sports like NASCAR and baseball. Don’s client tends to retell the same stories, but Don doesn’t mind. “My father spent a lot of time in a nursing home before he passed,” said Don. “It gave me a chance to meet other residents and I found it fascinating to hear their stories. When he passed away, I missed it.”
Caregiver relief companion volunteers are offered mileage reimbursement, but are not paid a stipend and do not have to meet income guidelines. Both the caregiver and the volunteer companion must apply for the program. They are provided with similar applications that inquire about their interests. This tool helps Jessica Adams, SourcePoint’s caregiver program coordinator, find a good match between the caregiving family and the prospective companion.
“The volunteer is given basic information about the client and where the family lives,” said Jessica. “If the assignment sounds good, the volunteer and I go to the home and have a meet-and-greet with the client and the caregiver. When everyone feels comfortable, we move forward.” Like the Senior Companion program, the need outstrips the number of volunteers available to match with caregiving families.
Nearly one in five older adults are themselves caring for an older adult. Leslie considers herself lucky: “I’m healthy, but a lot of caregivers are in their 80s. Some are not as healthy.”
Her experience has led her to start a caregiver ministry at her church, Heritage Christian Church in Westerville. The inaugural program will launch in the fall and has so far attracted 14 volunteers who will provide caregivers the luxury of attending church services, stress-free. “We just want an hour to worship or pray without worrying about someone else,” said Leslie. Comfort Keepers, a home care company, offers free two- to three-hour training sessions for ministry volunteers.
Don started volunteering with SourcePoint’s home chores program before adding caregiver relief companion to his volunteer duties. He relishes having slow-paced, one-on-one interactions with a senior. “I just enjoy that generation,” he said. “They’ve seen so much and done so much. It’s satisfying to give them the opportunities to tell their stories.” His heart is with the caregiving families, as well.
“I know what it takes to take care of someone with Alzheimer’s. It a great thing that caregivers do,” said Don. For information on becoming a Senior Companion, contact Connections Volunteer Center at 740-363-5000 or email spingry@ helplinedelmor.org.
Jill Smith the recruiter for volunteer services at SourcePoint. This story was also published in the Summer 2019 issue of My Communicator