As of 2010 the estimated number of people in Maine with Alzheimer’s and other dementias was 26,000. Six years later, that number can only be more as residents of our state continue to age. Seven out of 10 of these individuals live at home and are cared for by a family member or friend. As the disease progresses, patients need more supervision, help with activities of daily living, and finally, end-of-life, palliative care. Because people can live with degenerative dementia from 4 to 6 years or even longer, the strain on caregivers, particularly primary caregivers, is especially significant. Caregivers are frequently isolated socially and suffer depression as a result. Further, the cost of care outside of the home environment is staggering and beyond the reach of most people in Maine, as is hiring someone to help with care inside the home.
To help family members giving dementia care at home, the SAVVY Caregiver Program is available in Maine sponsored by The Maine DHHS Office of Aging and Disability Services. It is funded federally by the U.S. Administration on Community Living/Administration on Aging Alzheimer’s Disease Supportive Services Program. The development and testing of the program began in the late 1990s in Minnesota. Maine recognized the importance of the evidence-based community-based program implementing it in 2008. Since then SAVVY principles have been shared in many communities throughout Maine, including nearby Dover-Foxcroft and Milo, with positive results.
The goals of the 6-week 12-hour program are building skills, knowledge, and an attitude of confidence as a caregiver. Participants learn tips and strategies for interacting and communicating with their loved one as well as understanding and managing challenging behaviors. Those attending the program will learn what dementia is and how it affects a person and his/her behavior. Caregivers will learn self-care techniques. Within a class of this kind, caregivers will find support in sharing their experiences, thereby feeling less alone in their efforts. The program gives caregivers the tools they need to be more effective.
The SAVVY Caregiver program leader for Dexter is Cheryl Crabtree. Cheryl is completing a dual masters program in Human Relations and Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Husson University. Participation in the care of her aging father demonstrated the unexpected demands of managing someone in cognitive decline. That experience inspired a personal desire to learn more about dementia as a disease process and to help caregivers. When Eastern Area Agency on Aging offered the SAVVY teacher training, Cheryl enthusiastically enrolled. She has a passion to educate others about the impact of ageism.
The classes in Dover-Foxcroft and Milo under Cheryl’s direction were overwhelmingly well received. Class members anonymously wrote on evaluation forms words of praise, such as, “I have enjoyed the class. I’m sorry it is ending.” Another wrote, “Fantastic program! Exceptional provider!”
The Dexter SAVVY program will be held weekly on Wednesdays at the Abbott Memorial Library starting October 12 and finishing on November 16. Classes are 2 hours in length, 10:30 to 12:30.
To register for SAVVY Caregiver, call EAAA at 207-941-2865.