As many caregivers are aware, looking after someone with dementia in the home environment can be demanding, particularly when dementia has reached a more advanced stage.
For this reason, a South African dementia care facility has developed a special programme for caregivers who may feel that they need a little break from their responsibilities. They may wish to take a summer holiday or have a weekend away in the knowledge that their loved one will be well cared for in a comfortable and stimulating environment.
Livewell Villages, which provides long-term live-in care facilities for people with dementia in Johannesburg and Cape Town, identified a great need for an additional support service to assist families caring for a loved one with dementia within the home environment. As a consequence, Livewell has developed a Respite Care dementia programme, which has been designed to enable caregivers to take a break from their responsibilities for a few days, or an extended period.
“Caring for a person with dementia can be extremely demanding,” notes Ivan Oosthuizen, chief executive officer of Livewell Villages. “The aim of respite care is to provide some relief for carers, and support them in having a break from their caring responsibilities, to look after their own health and wellbeing.”
“Setting up a respite care service schedule should never make you feel guilty. This schedule will actually make for a better family caregiver in the long-term. Even if it’s just an extended lunch visit with a friend, that break from in-home care will give you the energy you need to be the best caregiver possible. Even if you’re the best multi-tasker in the world, no one can do it all.”
“Unfortunately, many caregivers don’t even realise that respite care is an option. They push themselves to the point of actual illness before someone tells them that they can get help. As a primary caregiver, you know very well that your loved one depends on you. But they can’t depend on someone who is not caring for themselves as well,” he observes.
Short-term professional support for carers
“The service provides shorter-term professional support for carers who are looking after loved ones with dementia at home. The programme affords families the peace of mind of knowing that we will ensure that their mother, father or spouse is well cared for in a well-appointed, safe environment where they will be nurtured and stimulated,” explains Oosthuizen.
The Livewell Respite Care programme enables people with dementia to stay at either one of the two facilities where they can be accommodated for anything from a few days up to a few weeks by prior arrangement. In this way people with dementia will benefit from the individualised care and carefully planned activities and therapy programmes on offer at Livewell.
Oosthuizen explains how carers who have made use of the service have expressed their gratitude at being able to return reinvigorated. “Family members are coming back well rested to a loved one who also enjoyed a pleasant and stimulating break in a comforting environment.”
Anything but a drop-off facility
“Livewell’s Respite Care programme is anything but a drop-off facility for people with dementia. Every individual is thoroughly assessed by our professional staff so that we can develop a programme specifically structured to meet their particular needs and requirements.
“As part of this process, they are carefully introduced and orientated to the environment and made to feel as safe and comfortable as possible. Afterwards families and carers are provided with detailed feedback on how their loved one participated and progressed during his or her stay at the facility.
“As many people with dementia have considerable difficulties with their short-term memory and can struggle with unfamiliar environments it is beneficial for them to be provided with structure to their day and week. We therefore recommend that they attend the Respite Care programmes with some regularity, even if it is just for one day a month.”
Oosthuizen says that some families are in the situation where they are considering full-time care for a loved one but find it difficult to make the transition to what will become a new phase of life for all concerned. Many find that the Respite Care programme is a good way of introducing their loved one with dementia to the Livewell environment with the view to gently transition them to full-time live-in care.
Caring for the carers
“Getting to know the family members of both our full time residents, as well as those who join us as part of the Respite Care programme, is equally important to us. Livewell aims to be at the side of families every step of the way in their journey,” advises Oosthuizen.
Livewell also hosts free support groups for caregivers and families that have loved ones living with dementia. Several support groups are hosted each month in Johannesburg and Cape Town to provide a safe and non-judgemental space for sharing experiences and coping strategies.
The support group is an opportunity for experienced Livewell staff members and guest experts to impart practical advice that can help to improve quality of life, both for the person living with dementia and for caregivers. This service was recently extended to Facebook with the launch of an online support group.
“We understand that coming to terms with a dementia diagnosis, or dealing with the effects such progressive conditions may have on a loved one, requires considerable emotional strength. Even the most resilient among us may experience times when we feel uncertain or overwhelmed in the face of the daily stressors associated with dementia,” adds Oosthuizen.
Important need identified
When asked how Livewell had identified a need for a Respite Care programme, Oosthuizen said they had received numerous enquiries from families who care for people with dementia asking whether Livewell offered a professional service that would allow them to take some time off if they so wished. They wanted the peace of mind of knowing that their loved one with dementia would be properly taken care of by a dedicated dementia care team in an appropriately equipped care facility.
“Our Villages in Bryanston and Somerset West provide individualised professional dementia care to our live-in residents, which meant we already had the resources and highly trained personnel in place. Therefore, it was relatively easy for us to develop our specialised Respite Care programme, which is proving to be most helpful and beneficial for those families who care for people with dementia,” concludes Oosthuizen.