Caring for the Caregivers
Sometimes the person who is providing care for an older loved one needs a bit of care too
The Livable Communities Caregiver Coaching Program Westchester County, New York, United States
Westchester County, an economically diverse and geographically vast northern suburb of New York City, is home to the award-winning Livable Communities Caregiver Coaching Program, which provides professional training to volunteers who then mentor family caregivers.
Once trained, the "caregiver coaches" play an "enhanced good neighbor role" by helping often-overwhelmed family caregivers understand their options and make informed decisions about caring for an older or disabled loved one in their own or their relative's home. The coaches become a stabilizing force and sounding board.
The nurses, social workers and geriatric care managers who teach the 12-hour caregiver coaching curriculum are volunteers, as are the coaches they train. Although having caregiving experience is a plus, anyone can volunteer to become a caregiver coach.
In addition to attending the training, coaches are required to make a one-year commitment to the program and participate in a monthly meeting. How much time each coach devotes to a family caregiver varies.
The program, which launched in 2010, is based on a curriculum developed by Westchester County's Department of Senior Programs and Services, Fordham University's Ravazzin Center on Aging and representatives from aging agencies. The training usually takes place once a week for three weeks.
Caregiver coaches are taught about the aging process, the challenges caregivers face, potential scenarios they might encounter as coaches, common solutions and specific coaching techniques, such as how to convey factual information clearly. The coaches are also provided with a resource-filled guide full of information about topics such as making a home safe and the need for caregivers to take care of themselves.
Several program rules help to protect both the coach and the caregiver. For instance:
- The family caregiver and the caregiver coach can never meet in person.
- The coach and caregiver may communicate only by telephone.
- The caregiver coach should never go into the family caregiver's home or meet the care recipient.
The program received a start-up grant from the Westchester Public/Private Partnership for Aging Services. With the curriculum up and running the program is then carried out by volunteers, which helps to control costs and make the program sustainable.
Westchester's caregiver coaching program offers a vital service to family caregivers throughout the county. As a phone-based program, it can be readily replicated in other communities and is especially useful for rural areas or regions where getting around is a challenge.
As many as 65 coaches are trained each year. "We can't count how many people have benefited from this program, because once the coaches are trained, they are forever sharing that information," says Colette Phipps, research analyst at the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services.
The program's awards include those from the National Association of Counties and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. The caregiver coaches have given extremely positive feedback about the program and training.
Published August 2015
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