Volunteer Appreciation: The UT Caregiver Reassurance Program

UT Health San Antonio students responding to the community

When the pandemic was officially announced in March 2020, our team was unsure how we could stay connected with caregivers who attended our programs and events. We decided that the best approach would be to personally reach out to every person in our database who had ever attended a Caring for the Caregiver event. One by one, we called each person to ask how they were doing and to get some sense of what they felt they needed in terms of support. Many caregivers were feeling the emotional impact of the social isolation from shelter-in-place orders. Several were unsure about their ability or interest to attend online events.

We determined that while some caregivers were able and interested in attending virtual programs, others may benefit more from personal check-ins by telephone. This is why we established the Caregiver Reassurance Program in the Summer of 2020. This program matches UT Health San Antonio student volunteers to family caregivers over a six-month period. Volunteers are trained to learn about the experiences of families living with dementia and how to effectively and respectfully communicate with sensitivity. Every volunteer is a certified “Dementia Friend” and required to attend ongoing training over the 6-month volunteer period. While the primary goal of the calls is to offer a social connection for family caregivers, volunteers are also able to refer to resources as needed. In their training, students are familiarized with the resources and support available to families living with dementia and are equipped with a referral guide to provide important information during their calls. If caregivers need additional support, volunteers refer them to a member of the Caring for the Caregiver core team for personal follow-up.

Since January 2021, our volunteers have made over 500 calls to family caregivers and referred just under 100 caregivers for personalized follow-up from a member of the Caring for the Caregiver team. The UT Health San Antonio students who make their calls every month have helped our team maintain important connections with our community of caregivers. While caregivers receive added support from this program, our volunteers are able to learn first-hand about the experiences of family caregivers. As health professionals, understanding the experiences of families living with dementia is an important part of their student training.

We are grateful for our volunteers who have committed time from their busy schedules to provide support to family caregivers. If you would like to learn more about the Caregiver Reassurance Program, please contact Sara Masoud, masoud@uthscsa.edu

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