There are many changes occurring in health care as state and federal health programs are requiring our local hospitals, doctors, and insurers to help patients and caregivers better understand and manage their care.  New legislation in New York State, the Care Act, was signed into law and will become effective this spring.

It requires hospitals to allow patients to designate a caregiver in their patient records.  The caregiver would also have to be given training for any post-hospital care that they would need to provide to the patient such as changing bandages or using other supplies, for example.

Community Caregivers is working closely with our local hospitals on committees they have established to improve care transitions after leaving the hospital and to help patients be more engaged in self-management of their care.  Community Caregivers has also received some funding to offer a new Health Consumer Assistance Project to provide information to educate our volunteers, caregivers, and supporters and the general community regarding health consumer issues.  

Community Caregivers will also be conducting a number of health care consumer workshops in our local communities to educate individuals on how to access their medical records, designate health-care proxies, and understand how to work with providers after a hospitalization. We will also be distributing information on consumer health issues and make referrals for further assistance, if needed, for services available through the New York Connects program of the Albany County Department for the Aging.

In the coming months, Community Caregivers will have staff members who are available to discuss health consumer issues of concern to you regarding communication with your doctor, your hospital stay, in-home care and other issues. 

Community Caregivers Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that provides non-medical services, including transportation, and caregiver support at no charge to residents in Guilderland, Bethlehem, Altamont, New Scotland, Berne, Knox, and the city of Albany through a strong volunteer pool of dedicated individuals with a desire to assist their neighbors.

To find out more about our services or our volunteer opportunities, please visit www.communitycaregivers.org or call 518-456-2898.

Editor’s note: Michael Burgess is a health care policy consultant at Community Caregivers Inc.

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Although the snow boots may still be in the hall closet this December, we know that the weather will turn to ice and snow before long and driving will become more challenging.  Just as we adapt our driving habits in the winter to snow-covered roads, we also need to consider how to adapt our driving as we age.

So today, we offer the second part of our columns on safety for older drivers. We hope that drivers of any age can glean some good ideas for themselves. 

Last month, Community Caregivers hosted an expert in the field of driver safety to speak to our volunteers. Many of our volunteers drive others as part of their volunteer service with Community Caregivers.

Donna Stressel, program director of Driving Rehabilitation Services at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital, conducted an interesting and informative session titled, “Drive Well.” As a Driving rehabilitation specialist, Donna has a wealth of knowledge and experience in helping individuals adapt their driving when they face the challenges of aging or disability.

On the positive side, she noted that older drivers have the benefit of experience, which can help them drive more defensively.

Below are strategies to assist with safe driving, which are especially pertinent to older drivers: 

— Map out your route before getting behind the wheel to avoid the higher risk situations, when possible. Examples include turning left into traffic and changing lanes on highways;

— Drive in daylight hours only, if you have trouble seeing in the dark;

— Drive in familiar places;

— Time your trip to avoid rush-hour driving; and 

— Avoid high-speed roadways; ramps that require you to merge into traffic by accelerating rapidly and switching lanes can be challenging to drivers with limited mobility. 

Our newer roundabouts slow traffic and are statistically much safer than stoplights, but can be confusing when you first encounter them. Drive routes with roundabouts during slow traffic hours first to familiarize yourself with the lanes and exits.

And especially in the winter, keep abreast of the forecast during the entire duration of your trip. Weather is especially capricious in our part of the country.  Rescheduling your travel might be a wise decision. 

If you’re an older driver or have an older driver in the family, consider enlisting the services of a driver rehabilitation specialist or occupational therapist.  The specialist can test your driving skills, suggest ways to improve your driving, and even offer ways to adapt your car for safety.

Driving programs aimed at older adults can update and refresh their knowledge of the rules of the road. Safe driver courses and resources are offered by the American Association for Retired Persons, the American Automobile Association, and some insurance companies. Drivers are taught how to adjust their driving to compensate for age-related physical changes. 

In our office, we have several print resources for older drivers. You are welcome to stop by and pick up these materials. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also has resources devoted to senior drivers; its website may be found at www.nhtsa.gov/Senior-Drivers.  All of these measures taken together can help keep older drivers safe on the road.

Community Caregivers, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that provides non-medical services, including transportation, and caregiver support at no charge to residents in Guilderland, Bethlehem, Altamont, New Scotland, Berne, Knox, and the city of Albany through a strong volunteer pool of dedicated individuals with a desire to assist their neighbors.

To find out more about transportation and other services or about volunteer opportunities, please visit www.communitycaregivers.org or call 456-2898.

Editor’s note: Linda Miller is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for Community Caregivers.

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Daina Majewski admits that her volunteer experience with Community Caregivers isn’t for everyone. She spends time with her client mostly on Saturdays. 
And that’s by mutual agreement.

Daina helps in lots of ways. Taking her to visit relatives, going for coffee or lunch, making beds, doing some gardening, even shampooing a carpet here and there are some of what Daina does. Community Caregivers didn’t assign all that, of course.

An employee of the State Employees Federal Credit Union, Daina had her orientation on site. SEFCU is one of a growing number of employers that value volunteerism so much they give their employees work time off.

Daina, however, chooses to do Saturdays. And Daina chooses to get more involved than most volunteers do, and probably clients as well.  But for this pair, the relationship works.

When Daina first started with Caregivers, she had some natural questions: “Is it going to work? Will they like me?”

She added, “You have to break the ice. It’s important to have a connection.”

This volunteer and her “friend” have been together since 2013 with one break when Daina had a surgery.

Other advice Daina has for potential volunteers is, “Be clear about what you’re willing to do, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.” 

Linda Miller, Caregivers’ Outreach and Education coordinator, and Mary Morrison, the Volunteer/Client coordinator, are more than willing to answer questions to help a volunteer feel comfortable. Essential information is always provided.

There are two orientations left in 2014:  Dec. 7 and 17. Watch the paper for 2016 dates.

You can, however, always call to schedule a private meeting if that’s what works best for you. At this time of year, the volunteer pool dwindles some because people go on vacation. There’s always a need for new volunteers. Keep the pool healthy.

Why not give yourself a gift this year that helping a neighbor gives. Or, make volunteering for Community Caregivers a New Year’s resolution.

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According to a recent American Association for Retired Persons study on caregivers, New York State ranks fourth in the nation with 2,670,000 caregivers. California, Texas, and Florida are first, second and third, respectively. Caregivers are defined as unpaid family members devoted to a loved one.

In 2013, family caregivers in the United States provided 37 billion hours of care. These figures are based on an average of 18 hours of care a week at an average of $12.51 an hour. So, in economic terms, the value of family caregiving is $470 billion.

These numbers are staggering. And, as we all know, they will rise substantially as the first wave of baby boomers become loved ones in need instead of caregivers.

Family caregivers can be considered hidden heroes who often work many hours without recognition or acknowledgment. Without these hidden heroes, many more older adults would require expensive nursing-home care.

Caregivers often find themselves thrown into a situation without warning: 60 percent of caregivers had a full-time or part-time job.

Caregivers must also learn a whole new set of skills to properly care for their loved ones. Just keeping up with doctors’ appointments and medications and keeping your loved one safe and comfortable can be overwhelming. Finding the resources available to you as a caregiver is vitally important.

Most caregivers and their loved ones prefer to stay in their homes and in the community where they have lived for many years. Those individuals in Guilderland, Bethlehem, New Scotland, Berne, and Knox have a wonderful resource available to them through Community Caregivers.

Community Caregivers volunteers are trained to assist in many different ways: provide transportation to and from doctor appointments, provide respite visits, pick up prescriptions, go grocery shopping, and do household chores.

A memory-loss support group meets twice a month for caregivers caring for individuals with dementia or other types of memory loss.

If you are providing care for a loved one, the numbers in the AARP caregivers study show that you are not alone. You should not be embarrassed or afraid to ask for help. Please contact Community Caregivers at 456-2898 so we can help you.

For those who are not caregivers but know of someone who is, November is National Caregivers Month. The best gift you can give is to offer your help to one of our hidden heroes.

The annual Community Caregivers gala will be held on Nov. 14 at the Colonie Golf and Country Club in New Scotland.

This annual event features cocktails at 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m., silent and live auctions, and dancing to the music of The Bluz House Rockers at 9 p.m. Tickets are $125 per person and the deadline for making reservations is Nov. 2. All proceeds go directly to providing services and programs for clients, caregivers, and their families.

Major sponsors for the evening include Adirondack Environmental Services, Albany Medical Center, Capital District Physicians Health Plan, GCom Software Inc., the New York State Funeral Directors Association, PBR Printing, the Times Union, and Wells Fargo.

Community Caregivers will be presenting two awards at this year’s gala.

“We are extremely proud to honor James J. Barba, president and chief executive officer of Albany Medical Center, and Midge McGraw Bulgaro, Community Caregivers Board member,” said Edna Mae Reilly, board president. “Both individuals understand the needs of caregivers and have responded to those needs through their commitment, dedication, and actions.”

Mr. Barba will receive the Joseph A. Bosco Community Services Award. This award is given to an individual who has been a leader in community service.

In addition to Mr. Barba’s responsibilities at Albany Medical Center, he serves on the board of directors of the Health Care Association of New York State and the Park Playhouse and co-chairs Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Capital Region Economic Development Council. He has received the University at Albany’s Citizen Laureate award, as well as many other awards from Capital Region organizations.

Mrs. Bulgaro will receive the Victor G. Ross Community Caregivers Founders Award. This award recognizes contributions to the long-term success of the Community Caregivers program.

Mrs. Bulgaro has been a member of the board of directors for 13 years. She has served as president and vice president and has co-chaired the golf and gala committees several times. She is also a tireless volunteer.

Career-wise, Mrs. Bulgaro spent 24 years in state government, including the New York State Assembly, Department of Labor, and Governor’s Office of Counsel, and the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

After her public-service career, she was vice president for Government Affairs for AmeriChoice Inc. Her experience and expertise have been very important to the programmatic and financial success of Community Caregivers.

Many individuals and businesses have generously donated prizes for the silent and live auction and it’s always a fun night out. Won’t you join us? Check the website — www.communitycaregivers.org — for additional information. 

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