Senior Concerns celebrates grand opening of support center
By Anna Bitong
HELPING THE CAREGIVERS—Viki Kind explains the concept of the new mobile unit to attendees during the grand opening of Senior Concerns’ Caregiver Support Center on July 15. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers Thousand Oaks resident Suzi Hogan began providing aroundthe clock care for her mother after rescuing her from an abusive retirement home in Kentucky three years ago.
But the challenge of looking after the needs of her aging parent, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and dementia, pushed her to her limits. Hogan had a heart attack while moving her mother to California.
Hogan recounted her ordeal to an audience at the July 15 grand opening of the Family Caregiver Support Center at Senior Concerns, a nonprofit that serves seniors and their family caregivers at 401 Hodencamp Road in Thousand Oaks.
“It was a very overwhelming situation, and I never dreamed that I’d be caring for my mother,” Hogan said. “I felt on the verge of an emotional breakdown. There were many days sitting in the office of Senior Concerns crying, not knowing how to navigate this new path. If not for the help I received, I really don’t know if I would have survived.”
HELPING THE CAREGIVERS—Senior Concerns President Andrea Gallagher cuts the ribbon with members of the Greater Conejo Chamber of Commerce during the Caregiver Support Center grand opening. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers To help people like Hogan, the Caregiver Support Center provides consultations, referrals to community resources and support groups, and other services at no cost to unpaid caregivers of seniors and those with dementia and other cognitive disorders and to grandparents raising grandchildren in East Ventura County.
The program, funded in part by a grant from the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging through the Older Americans Act, includes a mobile support unit that will travel three days a week to where caregivers might be, places such as churches, senior centers, health clinics and pharmacies, said Viki Kind, Senior Concerns advisory board member. The bus will distribute information in Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park, Simi Valley, Moorpark and Oak Park.
“Caregivers . . . have got to have people come to them,” Kind said.
About 44 million American families and friends provide unpaid care to another adult or grandchild, said Andrea Gallagher, president of Senior Concerns. Among those receiving care are an estimated 41 million people— half of Americans over 65—who have at least two chronic health conditions, such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Gallagher said that about 40 percent of family caregivers die before the loved one they are caring for, especially if the person receiving care has dementia.
“The caregivers often feel overwhelmed and don’t reach out for help until they’ve reached a crisis,” Lori Bliss, a case manager at Senior Concerns and a certified senior adviser, said.
“Often they’ll come in here and just let it out in the safety of this environment. Knowing that we’re here to help, they’ll often break down and just say how scared they are, how overwhelmed they are and they need a break.”
To help alleviate their stress, the Adult Day Care Center at Senior Concerns provides transportation to and from the center, a hot meal, snacks, music and activities for $65 a day. No one is turned away, Bliss said.
Scholarships are available, and the grant allows the center to offer low-income families lowcost day care, in-home respite care and home modifications to meet the physical needs of seniors and the disabled.
The day care benefits both the caregivers, who get a break, and the seniors, Bliss said.
“The quality of life is really improved when they are with other people and in a social environment,” she said.
Jennifer Weir, the youngest of 10 children, is caring for her mother, who was paralyzed after having a stroke. The elderly woman, who had cared for her husband with Parkinson’s disease, attends the adult day care twice a week.
“She’s very proud of her projects, making butterflies, winning at bingo, reminiscing, singing songs, she loves it all,” Weir said. “And I am so happy that she gets a break and I get a break, and she comes home and I’m not the caregiver, I’m the person she can’t wait to see.”
Hogan said her mother, who died in December, was afraid to go to the adult center at first, but eventually she looked forward to her visits.
“She said, ‘We’re all in the same boat and we help each other,’” Hogan said. “After many years of isolation she had found a place where people were not embarrassed by her, they acknowledged her, listened to her and treated her with dignity. She felt she had a purpose again. She mattered.”
Gallagher said many caregivers do not identify themselves as such and …