Aging well: Friendly faces, helping hands

VNA Companion Care program eases daily burdens, keeps clients independent

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When Carol O'Hare planned to have her knee replaced, she knew her active and independent lifestyle would be on hold -- at least during her initial recovery, when she wouldn't be able to walk or drive.

She was going to need help, and although she had family nearby, she didn't want all the worry and responsibility to fall on them.

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So she took a friend's advice and enlisted the help of Yampa Valley Companion Care, a VNA program that sends caregivers to help sick, injured and elderly clients with daily tasks such as cooking, errands and light housekeeping.

Caregivers visited O'Hare daily for a week. They went to the post office and bank, filled her grocery lists, did some laundry and even made lasagna and pot roast for her freezer.

"It really was a great help," O'Hare said. "The ladies were very good and very confident. They filled a need that I had at that time and something I think this community needs a lot."

The program is nonprofit, but clients pay an hourly fee of $18 to $22 (depending on when services are needed) to help pay caregivers and other program costs.

In addition to help with home needs, the program also emphasizes companion care, which can ease feelings of solitude and loneliness among clients who are less mobile.

Many clients are elderly individuals who appreciate friendly visits with caregivers. The caregivers read and share hobbies with clients, help them write letters and make phone calls to family or just enjoy a favorite TV program with them.

Caregivers also will accompany seniors to lunches at the Steamboat Springs Community Center and other sites.

The program, which has operated in Routt County for about a year, has nine part-time caregivers on staff, many of whom are retired professionals who enjoy spending time helping people in the program.

Caregivers help clients with non-medical needs on both a long- and short-term basis. In addition to errands and essential household tasks, caregivers also will help with personal care such as bathing, hair care and dressing.

"Yampa Valley Companion Care complements the VNA's Home Care program, which brings skilled nurses into the homes of patients needing medical attention," program coordinator Gena Fischer said.

Fischer is working on obtaining insurance and requirements that eventually will allow caregivers to drive clients to doctor's appointments and other errands.

The service has helped keep many older clients independent in their homes and also helps put family members' minds at ease, Fischer said.

"Companion Caregivers do the job because they want to, not because they have to," she said. "Clients call them their guardian angels."

The program has even made vacations a bit easier and more enjoyable for families visiting the area with elderly or injured members. A caregiver can assist those individuals, for example, while their families spend the day skiing or recreating.

For more active clients such as O'Hare, the Companion Care service has been invaluable in helping them get over the hump of injury or illness.

"I think it really helps in the whole healing process ... It allows an individual to relax so the healing can take place," she said.

Individuals interested in the program can schedule an intake visit with caregivers, who will access individuals' needs.

For more information about the program and future services in Moffat County, call Fischer at 846-3023.

For more information

The Yampa Valley Companion Care program offers sick, injured, disabled and elderly individuals short- and long-term non-medical assistance with daily needs including errands, cooking and light housekeeping and companion care. The nonprofit service costs $18 to $22 an hour depending on the time and day clients need assistance.

The program currently operates in Routt County but soon will expand to Moffat County. For more information or to schedule an intake visit, call coordinator Gena Fischer at 846-3023.

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