Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many older adults and their caregivers have remained in their homes across the country and lack technology to access key resources, including virtual counseling and support groups. In an effort to improve the quality of life for the millions of caregivers across the United States who are experiencing social isolation, the Lutheran Services in America network will expand the services of its Remote Caregiver program with the support of a grant from the Consumer Technology Association Foundation. Remote Caregiver was created to help caregivers with their ability to offer quality care to rural seniors, many of whom struggle with multiple chronic conditions and lack access to services because of distance, transportation, or their own mobility limitations. Lutheran Services in America member organizations Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota will use the new Consumer Technology Association Foundation funds to serve 50 families through May 2021.
Remote Caregiver is one of five programs provided by the Great Plains Senior Services Collaborative, a multi-state initiative sponsored and convened by Lutheran Services in America that is dedicated to supporting low-income and vulnerable seniors in the rural communities of Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana. The program provides coaching, teaching, and encouragement to family or informal caregivers who serve older adults. Remote Caregiver increases social connection and independent living for caregivers and older adults in rural settings through the use of modern technology, including handheld tablets, FaceTime, Skype and web conferences. The program has filled a critical need for caregiver services during the COVID-19 pandemic as many formerly in-person services such as counseling, support groups, and respite care are currently not offered.
Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota implemented Remote Caregiver in rural Minnesota counties during the first phase of the Great Plains Senior Services Collaborative (2016–2018). The grant now allows our network to extend services to additional older adults by providing training to new Remote Caregiver staff and supporting educational programs, support groups, and coaching sessions to help them in their caregiving role. The program’s expansion has the potential to support vulnerable caregivers, an estimated 34 million Americans who provided unpaid care to older adults in the past year and reduced the rate of admission to nursing homes for those receiving care. This next step will help set up the program to meet increased needs of caregivers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and afford them with the knowledge and tools needed to strengthen their caregiving skills, take care of their own personal needs, and enrich their role as caregivers.