Anyone who has undertaken the journey of being a caregiver to a parent, spouse or friend knows firsthand that it can be both a richly rewarding and overwhelmingly challenging experience. Fortunately, for caregivers of all kinds in Allegheny County and beyond, a variety of resources are available to support those in this role.
More than 65 million individuals in the United States— 29 percent of the adult population—currently provide care to someone who is chronically ill, disabled, dependent or aged in any given year—spending an average of 20 hours per week providing this care. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, a “caregiver” is defined as anyone providing assistance to someone who is incapacitated to some degree and needs help—a spouse with impaired mobility; an in-law with a debilitating illness; a homebound sibling; or a grandchild whose parents are deceased or unable to care for him and needs a guardian. The care can come in the form of physical, emotional or spiritual support, assistance with activities of daily living and financial matters, and everything in between.
Caregiver Support Program
The importance of “caring for the caregiver” has been recognized on a state level. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Aging offers comprehensive support through its Caregiver Support Program. The total value of the benefits available depends on the income of the household where the care recipient resides, but the range of benefits is wide and varied.
The program offers four categories of benefits:
• Services: Including but not limited to adult daycare, respite, legal services, overnight care, financial planning services, caregiver skills training, durable medical equipment rental, and extracurricular activities like tutoring, sports, clubs and camps.
• Supplies: A sample includes first aid kits, hearing aid batteries, smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, nutritional supplements and vitamins, incontinence supplies and would care supplies.
• Adaptive Devices: Wheelchairs, canes, lifts, bed railings, hospital beds, communication devices, food processors and more.
• Home Modifications: Ramps, stairlifts, grab bars, traction strips, monitoring systems, accessible bathroom modification and other items.
Supportive services include:
• Information: Providing information to caregivers about available resources.
• Assistance: Linking caregivers to available services (such as, support groups).
• Caregiver Training: Assisting caregivers in making decisions and solving problems relating to their caregiving roles, organizing support groups, and arranging for caregiving training.
• Respite Care: Providing caregivers with a temporary break from their caregiving responsibilities.
• Supplemental Services: Providing, on a limited basis, items or services (personal care/adult day service/ supplies) designed to help complement the care provided by caregivers.
Participants receive monthly reimbursement for caregiving expenses and self-care, as well as up to $2,000 to adapt the home environment or obtain assistive devices for the person they are caring for. The caregiver must assume the primary responsibility for the provision of care but is not required to be related to the care recipient by blood, marriage or adoption.
The Caregiver Support Program is available locally through the Allegheny County Department of Human Services Area Agency on Aging. “caregiving is very challenging, there is a great deal of support available to caregivers throughout our community,” says Russ Goralczyk, AAA’s OPTIONS Program Supervisor. We know there are a lot of caregivers out there who still don’t know about the Caregiver Support Program and all it has to offer. We’re looking to increase enrollment because, fortunately, there are no waiting lists for the program right now.”
To qualify for the program, the caregiver must be 18 years of age or older, and the care recipient must be age 60 or older and experiencing some Activity of Daily Living (ADL) deficits—or, in the case of an adult with a disability, age 18 to 59. The care recipient’s household income must be less than 380% of the Federal poverty level in order to qualify for reimbursement of expenses. The care recipient must also be a resident of Allegheny County. If you are a caregiver to a relative with a disability between the ages of 18 through 59 years old or grandparent caregiver, the care recipient must reside in your home.
How to Inquire
To inquire further about the program to see if it’s a right fit for you, begin by calling the Department of Human Services Area Agency on Aging’s SeniorLine at (412) 350-5460 or (800) 344-4319. You will be assigned a care manager, who will arrange for a home visit to discuss your situation, your needs and the needs of the loved one you are caring for. Based on what is learned in the conversation, the care manager will create a care plan to meet your needs and those of your loved one. This care manager will follow up with you periodically to make sure your supports are meeting your needs.
“The Caregiver Support Program is available to provide help and assistance to caregivers,” Russ adds. “I have the at-most respect for Caregivers and what they do, I encourage caregivers not to neglect themselves socially, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Take time to take care of yourself and find the resources you need for support.”
For more information about programs that support caregivers and their loved ones, call DHS/AAA’s SeniorLine at (412) 350-5460 or (800) 344-4319. To view the Allegheny County Family Caregiver Resource Guide online, go to https://www.alleghenycounty.us/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=6442467967.
Upcoming classes for local caregivers
The Allegheny County Department of Human Services Area Agency on Aging offers an excellent training series called “Powerful Tools for Caregivers.”
These classes are taking place from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on consecutive Fridays this fall: October 4, 11, 18 and 25 and November 1 and 8.
The classes will be held at NAMS Tarentum, located at 704 Second Avenue in Tarentum. To register, call (412) 350-4174 or email Christine.Toney@alleghenycounty.us.