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This New Program Trains Dementia Care Coaches

The coaches provide relief for caregivers and patients at an affordable price


Mary Ordal thought she’d had enough of work when she retired in 2011. “The next day I was kicking myself because I’m very active,” says the New York nurse turned pharmaceutical salesperson.

Soon, Ordal began looking for meaningful part-time work. She also became a certified life coach. But finding an employment fit was a struggle, Ordal says, until she got a call last year that put her at the forefront of a new approach to dementia care.

Now, Ordal coordinates a small group of dementia care coaches who provide relief and support to those with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.

(MORE: How Can We Keep Seniors in Their Homes as Long as Possible?)

The dementia care coach idea is the brainchild of ReServe, a New York City-based organization that matches experienced professionals with nonprofits and public service institutions that coordinate in-home dementia care. Coaches are also matched with patients and their caregivers directly.

The coaches, all age 55 and up, are paid a $10-an-hour stipend to work 10 to 20 hours a week. (ReServe charges $18 an hour; part of the pilot is to test pricing.) The nonprofit or institution benefits by bringing in seasoned professionals at minimal cost. The ReServists, as they are called, reap the benefit of giving back to their communities while earning a little pocket money.

Part Of A Pilot Program

Ordal had signed up with ReServe as part of her part-time job search, but hadn’t found a placement that was appropriate for her background in health care and startups. Then her number came up.

She and 10 other ReServists were selected to be part of a pilot program being launched in response to a predicted avalanche of Americans with dementia. The group underwent months of training before starting work with clients in January 2015.

(MORE: Free Training When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s)

The program already seems to be in high demand.

A Stake In The Ground

That makes sense to Laura Traynor, director of ReServe New York. “I have a health care background, so I’ve always been curious about how we could leverage this ReServist power and bring it into the health care system,” she says.

Traynor and her colleagues decided to put a stake in the ground with dementia care. “We were recognizing that people are living longer, and the longer you live, the more the incidence of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia increases,” she says.

The numbers are stunning. More than 5 million people in the U.S. age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. That number is projected to nearly triple in next 35 years. We’re talking about 14 million people by 2050.

Of course, the kind of round-the clock care required to care for people with dementia is expensive and exhausting. And that puts a strain on the health care system and on caregivers.

“There’s this tendency to push more and more to the home health aide worker because they’re the lowest paid denominator in the health equation,” Traynor says, “but they don’t always have the education and the skills to deal with that.”

Family Caregivers Under Strain

The same goes for family caregivers who can’t afford to pay for outside care and are left alone to handle the often-baffling and frequently heartbreaking symptoms of dementia.

Dementia care coaches aim to offer an affordable pressure valve. One of the goals of the pilot, Traynor says, is to make dementia care coaching available to middle-income families and agencies that employ health aide workers.

(MORE: Ask the Expert: Caring for Your Aging Parent)

For $18-an-hour paid to ReServe, the coaches go in and relieve these caregivers. But they do more than just give caregivers a break.

Coaches receive hours of training in techniques to effectively handle the symptoms of Alzheimer’s — as well as an understanding of the toll on caregivers.

The first step, Ordal says, is to learn the life story of those with dementia. Who were they before disease started messing with their memories? And who is the caregiver?

“The more we know about the client and the caregiver the better,” Ordal says. Armed with the knowledge, the coaches can work with caregivers to help solve problem behaviors.

Maybe a man with Alzheimer’s doesn’t want to bathe, but then you find out he likes jazz and you are able to coax him into the shower by playing music and dancing. Or maybe a woman is repeatedly asking the same question, but then you realize you can distract her by talking about a happy time long ago.

Coaches model these behaviors so caregivers can incorporate them. They also provide breaks for caregivers and connect them with information and resources such as the latest news, information or research from the Alzheimer’s Reading Room.

“A lot of people don’t understand Alzheimer’s,” Ordal says. “And sometimes people are critical of the caregiver who’s there 24/7. We want to make life more pleasant for the client and the caregiver.”

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