Ten years ago, when Bill Smith helped establish the Caregiver Coalition of the Midlands, one of the things he needed most was someone to listen.
His late wife, Jackie, had been diagnosed with dementia at 58.
He cared for her in their Columbia home for more than five years, retiring early from his job as an engineer, before moving her to an assisted-living facility for the last 1½ years of her life. He was with her every day.
And it was a lonely time, Smith said. Many of the friends he and Jackie had shared over 47 years of marriage found it painful to come around.
So in those early organizational meetings of the Caregiver Coalition, Smith suggested a phone line, providing loved ones with an outlet for good information or just a listening ear. Answer Carolina provides the service to the group without charge.
The hotline is one of the tangible results of the 10-year-old alliance between those who work with seniors and the loved ones who care for them – a community Smith said he found helpful before his wife died at age 65.
Coming up Oct. 12, the group hosts its 10th annual conference, bringing together family members for education and support. The free conference at Riverbanks Zoo will cover:
• The legal aspects of caregiving, with Amy May Landers, elder law attorney
• An overview of in-home support services, with Joyce Romero, DayBreak Adult Care Services
• Making your home safe, with Debbie Krotish, director of Senior Smart
• Dealing with difficult behaviors, with dementia specialist Janet Altman
• How to know when the time is right to change living arrangements, Marsha Ward, Dorn VA Medical Center.
Caring for an elderly loved one takes a financial, emotional and physical toll, said Ward, a social worker credited with starting the group.
And while services are available, it can be hard to figure out how to tap into them, she said. “We really just started the coalition to try to address that need for more education in the community, and more support.”
Romero, a resource adviser for DayBreak Adult Care Services, said she hopes caregivers would leave with a sense of peace and confidence.
“People get rattled. ‘Are they doing the right thing?’ ‘What if?’ And we’re helping them to just relax in their caregiving, and realize the need to take care of themselves.”
If you go
Caregiver Coalition of the Midlands
The group, founded in 2003, is a volunteer network providing education, support and advocacy to meet the needs of caregivers of seniors in the Midlands. The nonprofit coalition brings together caregivers and representatives of professional agencies serving seniors. It offers three main services:
An annual conference for caregivers, set for Oct. 12 this year.
A support phone line for resource information or just a listening ear at (803) 744-8615, answered daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
A support group for spouses of those with Alzheimer’s that meets the second Tuesday of each month, noon to 1:30 p.m., lunch provided, at First Presbyterian Church, Palmer Building, 1420 Lady St. Call Debbie Clark at (803) 779-1995.