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Caregivers provide a tremendous service

October is National Family Caregiver’s Month, the time to recognize caregivers and the tremendous service they provide to their loved ones and society.

Many people do not recognize themselves as a caregiver. Instead, they just see themselves as helping out a friend, neighbor or family member who is having trouble getting around or cannot do certain tasks on their own. Getting groceries, shopping, driving to medical appointments, or chores like laundry, food preparation, and paying bills are all considered caregiving. Caregiving does not mean the person you are helping cannot do anything for themselves; caregiving is helping with any task related to daily life. For many caregivers, the tasks you are helping with increase overtime, which can lead to caregiver stress and burnout.

The Office for Aging Services (OFAS) has many programs and services to help family caregivers. Programs include counseling and training for caregivers, respite services that can relieve the burden of daily care, and health and wellness programs so your health does not suffer. Our NY Connect helpline staff is available daily (716-753-4582) to talk with caregivers about program and service options available in Chautauqua County, no matter your age or income. While the phone line is manned 8:30-4:30 M-F, you can also leave a message at any time and we will get back to you usually by the next business day. You can also e-mail us at ccnyc@chqgov.com .

Approximately 85% of people with dementia and chronic illness are cared for exclusively in their own homes. One major worry for family caregivers can be ensuring that their loved one is eating healthfully. Good nutrition is important for managing chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, preserving stamina and independence, and maintaining a strong immune system that can fend off illnesses. However, special dietary needs, reduced ability to eat independently or recognize hunger, reduced appetite, difficult behaviors, and other issues all can make providing a healthy diet challenging, and malnutrition is a real risk. If you are looking for strategies to improve nutrition and reduce stressful mealtimes the What’s on Your Plate? guide from the National Institute on Aging Resources can help with choosing foods and planning meals. The guide offers the following ideas for caregivers to help meals go more smoothly:

¯ Offer one food at a time: Too much food on a plate can be confusing and overwhelming.

¯ Eat with your loved one. Modeling eating behavior and having a conversation during the meal encourages more eating. Talk about the smell and enjoyment of each food.

¯ If chewing or swallowing are a problem, prepare soft, chopped or bite-size portions like cottage cheese, scrambled eggs, applesauce, etc. Watch for choking hazards like small hard objects (grapes, raw carrot pieces). Make sure dentures are in place and fit well.

¯ Keep table settings simple to avoid distractions. Don’t worry about messy eating.

¯ Serve finger foods like sandwiches (in quarters), cheese sticks, and fruit slices.

¯ Optimize appetite for meals by offering opportunities for physical activity and avoid constipation with plenty of fluids and fiber.

¯ Offer small, frequent meals rather than three large meals.

One of the first program started under OFAS was a meal service for frail elderly in their homes and in congregate settings to encourage socialization and activity. Over the years, our nutrition department has evolved to include many services related to health, wellness, and nutrition.

We employ several dietitians and work with a variety of community partners with the goal of improving health through nutrition related activities. Traditional home-delivered meal programs are now called “Dining In” and are designed to serve frail, homebound clients at risk for malnutrition.

These meals are very carefully crafted to meet specific nutrition requirements to combat malnutrition. “Dining Together” is our traditional congregate meal program design to increase socialization of older adults around a meal.

While food is the draw, Dining Together is all about keeping people socially connected.Studies show social isolation can be the cause of many health problems including but not limited to malnutrition. As we are learning to cope with the on-going pandemic, we are safely reopening our Dining Together sites so older adults can reap the benefits of coming together around a meal. “Dining Out” is our restaurant dining program. Like Dining Together, Dining Out is all about bringing people together around a meal.

Dining Together’s menu is limited as these are produced with our home delivered meals to provide very specific nutrition to at risk older adults. Our partnership with local restaurants for the Dining Out programs provides more variety in meal choices for older adults better able to move around in the community.

While food is very important, it is only part of a larger program designed to help people live better healthier lives that will support them as they age. In addition to specific meal programs, our Nutrition Department also provides dietician consultations, Farm to Senior Table program, health & wellness education, and exercise/fitness programs all specifically designed for older adults.

For more information about Chautauqua County OFAS or anything mentioned in this article, call the NY Connects helpline at (716) 753-4582, e-mail us at ccnyc@chqgov.com , or visit or NY Connects or Office for Aging Services FaceBook pages. If you are a long-distance caregiver and want to know what is available in other parts of the country, contact our national ElderCare Locator online or at 800-677-1116, or by visiting the caregiver resources pages on ACL.gov.

Mary Ann Spanos Chautauqua County Office for the Aging director.

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