By Roxanne Jenkins, Associate Vice President of Services for Older Adults at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota
You may ask yourself, “I think I would know if I am a caregiver — right?” Well, for many of us, we are deep into caregiving before we recognize it.
Caregiving: It Often Begins Simply
It may begin simply, by taking on more chores around the house or managing the finances. Before you know, you may be the primary care provider for your loved one.
Yes, this is sometimes called being married or being the dutiful daughter, and it’s something we simply accept as part of our human role in caring for others. Yet, we aren’t always mindful of all that we are taking on and how important it is to maintain a balance between caring for another and caring for oneself.
LSSMN’s Role in Caregiver Services
As a provider of Caregiver Support Services for over 24 years, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSSMN) continues to innovate and grow its services — in order to keep up with the needs and demographics of the people it supports and serves.
LSSMN Caregiver Services began by providing in-home respite — matching families with volunteers who could come to the home, spend time with family members who were unable to stay alone, and provide a much-needed break for the caregiver. Later, we at LSSMN added counseling and coaching services to help caregivers work through issues they were experiencing in their caregiving. Caregiver Support Groups and education sessions led to a full suite of services to connect and support caregivers.
Adding Service through Technology
In the past few years, our service delivery has expanded through technology — providing data and iPads to caregivers to access supports in a virtual way. This has been a great way for us to reduce barriers, especially for our neighbors living in rural parts of our state. Caregivers use technology to connect to services, to research and learn more about diseases their loved ones may be facing, to order groceries and complete other tasks from home, and to connect with family and friends through FaceTime or Skype.
Expanding our work through technology was, in part, made possible through Lutheran Services in America’s Great Plains Senior Services Collaborative. This initiative has been generously supported by a national foundation with a keen understanding and interest in addressing the health and wellness needs of our rural seniors across the nation, needs faced by communities with limited resources, and needs resulting from financial barriers experienced by caregivers and families with low to limited income.
The first three years of this support helped us to refine our service offering. As we continue into the next phase, we are looking to pair our Caregiver Services with a service coordination offering, which will help couples and families be more proactive in their care planning.
Sharing What We’ve Learned
Through this partnership, we are also able to share our service development with our colleagues in the Great Plains Senior Service Collaborative in North Dakota and Montana, thereby providing the advantage of an already developed service model, which these states and communities can introduce without starting from scratch.
How Caregiver Services Improve Peoples’ Lives
By addressing health and wellness needs in a more proactive way, people can live the lives they envisioned. Older adults can continue to live in the home and community of their choosing, engage with others, remain socially connected, and have more autonomy in the design of their lives and care. This is especially important when older adults are faced with the unexpected.
We often hear from those we serve that they wish they had accessed our services sooner — that we had provided them with the education, support and counseling they didn’t know they needed until they received it. And they tell us that our services significantly helped them to care for their loved ones longer, that they were more confident in how to care, and that they had the right tools both to care for their loved ones and for themselves.
Our goal for the future is continue to increase awareness of the wonderful and powerful role of caregiving and to continue to give people tools for doing this with great care. Also, by creating synergies through such partnerships as the Great Plains Senior Services Collaborative, we can bring greater service and care supports to so many more people — enhancing their health and wellness and delivering on the goal to remain living independently.