Community Partner Spotlight – Meals on Wheels
Care In A Time Of Need
If there is one thing that the pandemic has raised awareness about it is what it is like to be at home with the weight of caring for a family member resting largely or sometimes solely on your shoulders. For many, making a sudden shift to working from home was stressful enough. But for those attempting to do so while also providing care for a loved one living with dementia, this has become an overwhelming challenge.
Some of these caregivers are new to full-time caregiving. Others are spouses who have been doing this all along but are now experiencing a greater sense of isolation as they spend longer periods of time at home to protect the health of their families. Parents are also a part of this group of heavily impacted caregivers. Sometimes working hard to manage the care of an elderly parent while at the same time being responsible for their children’s education while they continue to work themselves.
This sudden shift and increase in caregiver responsibilities do not have a clear end in sight. Many caregivers of those with dementia, are now being called back into work. Their employers may have been more flexible with them during the pandemic to allow them to work at home, but that time is running out. And these caregivers are facing some new and unexpected challenges of how to provide for the safe care of their loved one while also continuing to work to meet the financial needs of their families.
Grace Place Alzheimer’s Activity Centers is a program that is part of Meals on Wheels San Antonio’s spectrum of services. The city’s only non-profit adult day centers focused on serving those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, first opened in the mid-1970s. “With decades of experience in creating environments that focus on the strengths and remaining abilities of our members, we have always focused on providing in-person socialization and directed activities. But the pandemic has had a big impact on how we can serve,” said Grace Place Director Christina Avena.
“This population is among some of the most vulnerable and our first concern was ensuring their safety and the safety of our staff,” said Avena. The organization had to make a difficult decision in March of 2020. Placing the safety of its members as the priority above all else, it closed its doors for day services for the first time since it opened in 1977. But as has been the case with many businesses, programs, and non-profits, this time of pause has also brought with it a sense of re-invention.
During this time of closure, Grace Place staff have been working to reimagine a program that would serve not only those who walk through the center’s doors each day but also identify gaps in service and find ways to increase care beyond just Monday through Friday during the day.
New services such as Grace at Home and Graceful Gatherings are taking shape. These programs offer caregivers at home the chance to have access not only to the care and support services that have continued, but also additional tools and resources designed specifically to serve families impacted by dementia. “It is so important to remember that once a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, this is a diagnosis that impacts the whole family,” said Avena.
Grace At Home is a new service in which families receive therapeutic activities along with a caregiver guide including tips and information on how to encourage participation. If there is one thing that Grace Place staff knew and did well, it was successfully engaging its participants in activities and socialization. “The majority of our family caregivers have had little to no training or preparation leading up to taking on their role of caregiver for a loved one with dementia,” said Avena. “The goal of these at-home services is to enable caregivers to feel better informed and empowered as they encourage their loved ones to participate. The more engaged the person with dementia, the better quality of life for everyone in the home.”
Graceful Gatherings is another opportunity that is slated to begin in early Fall. These in-person social gatherings for caregivers and those living with dementia will help to encourage a sense of community among families. Caregivers will be provided with resources, support, and education on topics that will help relieve some of the stress and uncertainty that comes with providing care. For those living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, this will be an opportunity to socialize, meet others and participate in guided activities.
“We hope to have a positive impact on families and provide them a chance to be a part of a community who understands their unique needs,” said Avena. “These services are just part of the way we plan to expand what we continue to offer once we reopen our centers for daily services. In the past, when our members had to leave our program due to a decline in health, it was always the toughest part of our relationship with these families. By expanding our services, we hope to open new doors in how we can maintain active relationships with our families and continue to be a part of their family of support.”
Grace Place also has continued other services during its time of closure. A partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association has allowed for a Caregiver Support Group offered to those providing care to someone with dementia. Currently meeting monthly, this group is led by trained co-facilitators. Grace Notes Community Choir is another partnership with Oak Song Music Therapy in which a board-certified Music Therapist draws together those with a love for singing and music. This community choir is especially for those living with dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders along with their family member or care partners. No experience is necessary to join, and the choir currently meets weekly.
For information on Grace Place or any of the additional Meals on Wheels services, call (210) 735-5115 or visit the website at www.mowsatx.org.
Written by Christina Avena