The Senior Connection is snapping a new piece into the health care puzzle this week by introducing a group respite program for people with Alzheimer's disease, dementia and aphasia. The program is intended not only for those who suffer such illnesses themselves, but for their caregivers too, said Kimberly Coonis, executive director of the Senior Connection, a Hailey-based nonprofit organization that provides a variety of services to seniors.
"It's just kind of a piece of the puzzle that's missing in the community," Coonis said.
Coonis said the program is designed to give cognitively impaired people opportunities to socialize, steering them clear of a tendency to become isolated, which can speed impairments of the disease. She said the program offers activities that are "enjoyable, safe and supportive" and provide enrichment.
"It's very exciting," she said. "When you deal with Alzheimer's, dementia and aphasia, it's very taxing for the caregiver. This program will also give them a break that they need."
The program is offered Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cost is on a sliding-scale basis.
The Senior Connection provides about 30,000 hours of in-home care annually for people struggling with cognitive impairment.
"So, for us it's really important to give people a break," Coonis said. "What the program is set up to do is to delay the need for more care. Activity, socializing, helps to enhance brain functions. Quite often when you have dementia or Alzheimer's, it helps delay [advanced care]. More stimulation, more good diet, helps keep the brain stronger for longer."
The Senior Connection is looking for volunteers who can commit four or five hours a week to help with the program, which will include educational, therapeutic and thought-provoking activities in a secure and comfortable setting.
"It provides a much-needed resource in the community that will enhance and maximize the positivity of the individual, their family and caregiver's dynamic, and involvement in the community," said Program Coordinator Lynda Andros. "Having a program like this ... can only provide growth and understanding in the community and a sense of togetherness. We are all here to help one another and teach one another. It is the circle of caring, knowledge and understanding."
In addition to providing learning experiences that are beyond simply "keeping busy," activities will be prescribed for the individual. The program is also intended to help reduce stress from the challenges of care-giving.
"I really want to get across how important this is," Coonis said. "Because Alzheimer's and dementia patients do tend to isolate themselves, the caregiver sometimes becomes isolated as well. Once the caregiver is isolated, home care begins to break down."
Family members and other caregivers will have more resources and support available through the program to help them better understand disease processes and better manage responsibilities of care. The intention of the program is also to provide caregivers an opportunity to get rest and take care of their own needs.
"It's going to help so many families," Coonis said.