Aging Well: Caregivers help with nonmedical needs

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The Yampa Valley Companion Care program offers sick, injured or disabled individuals short- and long-term help with nonmedical needs including bathing, cooking and light housekeeping. Caregivers also are able to drive clients to the grocery store, appointments, errands and activities.

The nonprofit program, which primarily operates in Routt County, is a private pay service with rates starting at $21 per hour (visits must be at least one hour). The service is available days and evenings for short- or long-term care. For more information or to schedule an intake visit, call coordinator Gena Fischer at 970-846-3023.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 10, 2010. It has been updated for accuracy.

An illness, injury or disability can seriously affect a person’s emotional well-being. While contending with challenges of daily living, they often grieve loss of independence and fear moving into a long-term care facility.

If they are housebound, they are at risk for isolation, loneliness and depression.

Regular visits from a compassionate helper and friend can make all the difference for a person in this situation.

Providing companionship and nonmedical assistance to individuals recovering from injury or coping with chronic illness or disability is the focus of the Yampa Valley Companion Care program, a service of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

Operating for several years, the program comprises a group of part-time caregivers that include moms and retired teachers, social workers, physical therapists, nurses and paramedics.

While from different backgrounds, caregivers all have the experience and desire to help others and often have a special place in their hearts for elderly individuals.

“They are very, very compassionate. … A lot of them have cared for their parents, enjoyed it and wanted to continue working with older adults,” said Gena Fischer, program coordinator.

Caregivers help clients with cooking, laundry and light housekeeping (though they are not a cleaning service), as well as personal care needs such as bathing and dressing.

“The ladies in the program are really professional and make the client feel comfortable,” Fischer said.

Caregivers also are able to drive clients to doctor appointments, the grocery store and other errands, as well as to activities such as movies and concerts.

Helping clients with essential daily needs is important, but the biggest help often comes in the form of companionship.

Program caregivers enjoy taking walks with clients, having lunch, sharing hobbies, helping them write letters or use the computer, playing games or simply watching a favorite TV program.

Depending on a person’s needs, caregivers often work with other programs, such as Home Health and Hospice, to help a person remain at home as long as possible.

“Several of our clients have been able to die at home because of what we do,” Fischer said.

Visits from Companion Care staff can provide important respite for a person’s primary caregiver as well as piece of mind to family of clients who live alone.

If a caregiver notices a person’s health worsening or sees signs of problems they can notify the family of concerns and/or contact services providing medical assistance.

“The (caregivers) in the program are really, really good at monitoring a client’s condition,” Fischer said.

The program has even made vacations a bit easier and more enjoyable for families visiting the area with elderly or injured members. A caregiver can help those individuals, for example, while their families spend the day hiking or biking.

Typically, there is an adjustment period as a client gets accustomed to their caregiver. Reluctance is natural and expected because many people feel like having help means giving up independence, Fischer said.

“Once they get used to it, they really look forward to the days we come out,” she said.

Individuals interested in the program for themselves or a family member can schedule an intake visit with caregivers, who will access the person’s needs.

For more information about the program, call Fischer at 970-846-3023 or visit www.nwcovna.org and click on “Care at Home” then “Private Duty Nursing.”

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information,visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 970-871-7606.

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