Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Updated Support Group Map

Looking for a support group near you?

We’ve updated our guide to support groups in the Pittsburgh area. A lot of them have changed, but this represents the most up-to-date information my numerous phone calls could gather!

Once you click on the link below, it will take you to a Google Map that shows where current support groups are and contact information if it is available. On the left side of the map, you can choose what type of support groups you are interested in exploring. Categories include:

Caregiver Support
Parkinson’s Disease

To view the interactive map, click here!

You can also view the Area Agency on Aging's list of support groups in the area by
clicking here.

If you live outside of Allegheny County, or you don’t see a group for your needs here, there are several good places to start. Check with a hospital near you to see what groups they run. Many non-profit organizations that focus on a single disease (like the
Alzheimer's Association and the American Cancer Society) can help you find a support group and other resources. The Family Caregiver Alliance specifically focuses on resources and groups for family caregivers, and offers some online support groups. Finally, you can try getting started with this online self-help group search tool.

We do our best to keep this information up to date, but support groups are always changing. If you discover that one of the support groups listed here is no longer active, we'd appreciate it if you let us know. Likewise, if you know of one that is not listed here, feel free to share!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Staying at Home: Housing Resources Out There to Help You!

Contributed by: Deanna Leyh

Most of our loved ones want to stay in their home as long as possible, but sometimes financial hardship or other unanticipated events can make it difficult to do so. Sometimes it might be difficult for our loved ones to afford their rent or house payment, or they may even have trouble paying their utility bills.

However, being evicted, losing your home, or having your utilities turned off should never be a worry for older adults or their caregivers. During these scary times, it can be hard to know where to turn or if anyone could help — but there are programs and agencies out there in the community that are waiting to help people in a bind who need some help to stay in their home!

Help Finding Affordable Housing for Older Adults

Assisted Rental Housing
The Federal government can provide rental assistance for low-income, older adults (62 and older) and families and/or to people with disabilities (18 years and older). Tenants are required to pay just 30% of their income toward rent. For more information about assisted rental housing for older adults, contact your local housing authority or call (877)-428-8844 weekdays between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Within Pennsylvania, this website will help you search for more accessible and affordable apartments and housing.

Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh
This agency can help individuals struggling to pay their mortgage or rent by providing help with finding low-income housing and/or possibly financial assistance to help people stay in their home or apartment. For more information, visit their page on home assistance.

Homeowner and Renter Assistance

Customer Assistance Program, Utility Providers 
Most utility providers offer help to customers who aren’t able to pay their utility bills. Many utility providers will offer an optional payment plan, will accept a partial payment, or make special arrangements. Call your utility provider and ask about their assistance program, sometimes called "CAP."

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) 
This program helps low-income families pay a portion of their winter heating bills; it generally operates during winter heating season, which is between November and March. There are several ways to sign up for LIHEAP: you can apply online here, you can visit your local county assistance office, or you can call your Area Agency on Aging for assistance. 

Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) 
This agency helps provide safe affordable homes and apartments for older adults, and they offer a variety of helpful housing-related programs for the state’s older adults. For instance, the Homeowners’ Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP) helps people who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments and are in danger of foreclosure. 

They also have the Renovate and Repair Loan, which provides affordable financing for homeowners who want to repair their home, improve it, make it more energy-efficient, so that they can continue to live independently. Other refinance programs can also help homeowners take advantage of lower interest rates to lower their monthly mortgage. If you would like more information on PHFA and their programs, check out their website or call the Homeownership Hotline at (800)-822-1174.  

The 504 Home Repair Program 
The Very Low-Income Housing Repair program through the USDA provides loans and grants to very low-income owners to repair, improve, or modernize their homes. Additionally, the Rural Housing and Rehabilitation Grants can help eligible owners/occupants who are 62 years or older with repairs or improvements.

*This isn't even all, there are other programs out there to help you keep your home. As always, contact your local Area Agency on Aging as well—they will be able to help you or your loved ones find and connect to the resources to help you stay in your home!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Home Safety

by Emily Anderson

Last week, we suggested that making the home a safer, more comfortable environment was one way to keep your loved one out of an institution. This week, we're going to take a closer look at how, exactly, to do that.

Fall prevention

Falling is a major problem for older adults, and a leading cause of injury, placement, and death. The NIH suggests that taking these steps could help prevent a catastrophe:
Remove hazards, including:
  • Clutter
  • Cords
  • Small pets
  • Slick floors
  • Icy steps
  • Rug edges that catch shuffling feet
  • Weird-shaped furniture you never liked anyway 
Keep it bright 
Use high-wattage lightbulbs and place lamps within easy reach of the bed and beloved chairs. Try motion-activated night lights in halls, bathrooms, bedrooms, and kitchens. 
Grab bars and rails 
Especially on stairs and in bathrooms, make sure they are securely attached to the wall. 
Make it convenient 
Put light sources and frequently used items within easy reach. Ladders and chairs are a real no-no!

Special considerations for dementia

Dementias such as Alzheimer's impair a person's ability to make good judgments. They might also get confused easily, lose track of their sense of time and place, or have sensory impairments like reduced hearing or balance. If you are taking care of someone with a dementia, you'll need to take some extra steps to keep them safe.
Lock it up 
All hazardous substances and areas should be off limits. Consider your loved one's degree of impairment, then lock up anything that might be dangerous. This includes, but is not limited to:
  • Guns – better yet, remove them!
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Garages and basements
  • Sharp knives
  • Stoves or other fire sources
  • Medications
Use alert systems 
Someone with dementia might not notice the smell of smoke filling the house, or know what to do about it. Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and consider turning down the temperature on their water heater. 
Wandering locks 
Some people get confused and try to leave the house. Try sticking a colorful "Stop" sign on outside doors. Installing deadbolts high or low on the door can prevent wandering, since people with dementia often don't look for locks out of their line of sight.

Monitoring home safety has gotten easier with technology. I know people who have set up "nanny cam" video systems so they can check on their loved one night or day. There are alarm systems now that sync to smartphones and medical alert bracelets that call paramedics with the push of a button! You can't make your loved one's home foolproof, and accidents do happen, but taking some steps early on can prevent unnecessary injuries and trips to the hospital.

Inspired to make your home safer? For a very detailed home safety checklist, try this one from the AARP.

And here's another detailed list with tips for making your home more secure.

For more suggestions specific to people with a dementia, try the Alzheimer's Assoication here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Research Roundup - September

By Emily Anderson

To place or not to place?

That's the question on many caregivers’ minds, especially on rough days. Many people struggle to decide if they should move their loved one to a nursing home or some other supported living environment. Maybe on the one hand you know that your mom wants to be at home and is comfortable there while the nursing homes you visit seem so cold and sterile. On the other hand, you never get to stop running around, you can't always be there for your mom, and you're starting to worry about her safety.

Today, we'll look at what some of the research as to say about nursing home placement, specifically for people with a dementia such as Alzheimer's.

There's no gentle way for me to say this: The bad news is that nursing home placement is associated with shortened survival. The good news is that the longer you can keep your loved one at home, the better they are likely to do. This report by McClendon and colleagues found that if you move your loved one to a nursing home five years after their first symptoms they are about five times more likely to pass away. If you can hold out until 10 years, that risk drops by half, and by 15 years, placement pretty much doesn't make a difference. On average, people with Alzheimer's live seven years after diagnosis, so if you can hold out for even those first five, you're making a big difference. In short: Every year you keep your loved one at home, you increase their chances of living longer if they do eventually need to move to a nursing facility.

The next logical question, then, is: Why do people wind up in nursing homes? This study by Gaugler and colleagues pointed out two categories of factors that could lead to your loved on moving to a facility: a worsening disease process and caregiver stress. As time goes on, diseases generally get worse and it becomes more and more difficult to care for your loved one. They might depend on you more and more for the activities of daily living, descend into depression, or develop difficult behavioral symptoms. Just as important, though, is if you as the caregiver are feeling emotionally stressed or trapped. Stressed caregivers are more likely to move their loved one into a nursing home.

The point here is not to make you feel bad if you have reached the point where you are moving your loved one into a nursing home. Everyone has their limits as a caregiver, and if you've hit that limit, there is no need to feel guilty. Focus instead on the other side of what this research reveals: every week, month, and year that you dedicate to keeping your loved one home, you give them the gift of better survival odds. Your hard work, running around, and endless phone calls actually pay off for the person you're taking care of. The second study in particular highlights just how important it is for you to take care of yourself – your loved one depends on you, but you can only help them if you aren't feeling burned out and depleted.

And though we haven't figured out how to stop the progress of diseases like dementia yet, these studies point out that there ARE things you can do to improve your loved one's chances of staying at home. Three important steps (with research to back them up!):

  1. Make the home safe for your loved one – this can help prevent physical decline that would cause them to enter a nursing home.
  2. Talk to your doctor – they may be able to suggest medications that can help manage behaviors and moods so you can stay on top of things at home
  3. Take care of your own stress! Whether that means taking a nice walk or joining a support group, taking care of yourself means you'll be able to care for your loved one better and longer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Get Smart - September

Better Choices, Better Health

Sponsored by the United Way and presented by Familylinks affiliate Vintage, Inc., Better Choices, Better Health is based on the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, developed at Stanford University. It’s a six-week program for people dealing with chronic health conditions like diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and others. People with different conditions all attend the same classes; the program is aimed at dealing with any chronic condition, rather than giving tips for dealing with one specific problem. Learn about dealing with day-to-day challenges and medications, in addition to the benefits of good nutrition and exercise.

This program is free and held in more than 15 locations around Allegheny County throughout the fall and winter. Find a site near you and sign up by visiting the website here or calling Vintage at 412-361-5003.

Upcoming resource fairs

Though you may feel alone in your caregiving duties, there are a lot of resources in Allegheny county, and there may be one that suits your particular needs. Come to one of these fairs to collect information about different services, organizations, and resources that could help you. And we'll be at a lot of them, so feel free to stop by to talk with us!
Respite Community Forum & Resource Fair at CLASS
September 9th, 6pm-8pm
(1400 S. Braddock Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15218)

Life Options Pittsburgh at Dick's Court in the Monroeville Mall
September 11& 12th, 10am-7pm
( 501 Mall Cir Dr, Monroeville, PA 15146)

Senior Care Network Health Fair at Plum Creek Acres
September 16th, 11am-1pm
(501 Center New Texas Rd, Pgh, PA 15239)

Senator Vulakovich's Senior Expo at Allison Park Church
September 18th, 10am-1pm
(2326 Duncan Ave, Allison Park 15101)

Arthritis Expo at the Regional Learning Alliance Conference Center in Cranberry -- It's free, but register here
October 3rd, 9am-2pm
(850 Cranberry Woods Drive, Cranberry Township, PA 16066)

Where to Turn Resource Fair: Health and Wellness at the David Lawrence Conference Center
October 13th, 8am-12pm
(1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd, Pittsburgh, PA 15222)