COLUMBIA—A new respite care program at Our Lady of the Hills Church is designed to provide relief for people who must care for loved ones suffering dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions.
Helping Families Cope opened Sept. 30, and runs from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each Thursday in the parish hall.
Two men and two women are enrolled in the program, according to Sister Christina Murphy, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. She is the church’s pastoral associate and organized the course.
Two paid staff members and a large group of volunteers serve the clients whom they call guests.
Caregivers are interviewed and clients are assessed before they start coming to the program so volunteers can be sure they are equipped to meet the person’s needs, Sister Christina said.
The service costs $30 a week per person, and two trained volunteers are assigned to each client. The volunteers talk and interact with them, and help with meals and activities.
Sister Christina said each session includes activities specifically for dementia patients, including art, music, puzzles, exercise, games and crafts.
“We design activities that keep their dignity but also are geared to their level of ability,” Sister Christina said.
The program is funded in part by a $10,000 grant from the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. It has been in the works since June 2008, when Sister Christina first applied for a start-up grant.
She learned respite care was a necessity because she heard about more and more people in the parish who had to provide constant care for family members with Alzheimer’s.
Caregivers frequently have no time for themselves or to perform routine errands.
“The best part of the new program is seeing the caregivers drop off their loved ones and then be able to leave and not have that stress or strain on their face,” she said. “They know that they’re leaving their loved one in a place that is safe and where people care for them.”
Our Lady of the Hills parishioners will be given first priority at Helping Families Cope, but the goal is to assist anyone in the community who needs the service.
This is the second Catholic parish in the Midlands to offer respite care. St. Joseph Church has had a weekly respite session since 1994. It is run by Ursuline Sisters Andrea Callahan and Julienne Guy from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Thursday.
Sister Julienne said their program, staffed by volunteers, currently has seven people with varying degrees of dementia or physical challenges. Each week, clients begin sessions with exercises and memory games, have snacks, make crafts and participate in other activities.
“Respite care is important for the caregivers because it gives them a chance to do what they need to do or just to have some time to relax,” Sister Julienne said. “Many people are so busy every minute of the day, working and caring for their loved one, they don’t even have time to rest.”
People interested in enrolling a loved one or assisting with the venture may call Our Lady of the Hills Church at (803) 772-7400.