Innovative counseling program available for free to families through Riverside’s Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health.

Attention caregivers of a family member living with Alzheimer’s or other memory loss diseases. You are not alone, and there is support for you here in the community.

Facing the holiday and winter season can feel especially stressful. The Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health (CEALH), in partnership with the University of Virginia and the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, continues to enroll residents of the Middle Peninsula (Gloucester, Middlesex and Mathews Counties) and Northern Neck (White Stone, Kilmarnock and Irvington) regions into the F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. program.

F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. – short for Family Access to Memory Impairment and Loss Information, Engagement and Support – provides counseling and support for caregivers at no cost over several months. Caregivers may access a counselor in an office setting, via telehealth at home, and via telehealth at a Bay Aging site.

“The goal is to help bring family members together to help the primary caregiver in caring for a family member with dementia,” said Christine Jensen, Ph.D., CEALH’s Director of Health Services Research. “Compassionate, trained counselors assess the individual situation, help with understanding of memory loss and how it may progress, develop an individualized care program for the family and discuss coping strategies for stress and changes in personality or behaviors."

Through this New York University Caregiver Intervention program, caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease or other types of memory loss receive six free counseling sessions, and one follow up, with trained counselors to help reduce stress and depression, increasing family support, enhancing knowledge for managing memory disorders, and providing assistance with finding local services and resources.

“Caregivers and their families are offered free confidential sessions with counselors who are certified in this program. Some sessions are focused solely on the caregiver and other sessions incorporate other family members and friends that the caregiver identifies as being part of the care team,” Jensen said.

There is clearly a need for this program in Virginia, Jensen said, where there are more than 450,000 caregivers in the Commonwealth alone providing unpaid care to individuals with memory loss diseases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. “gave me the opportunity to discuss ‘feelings’ about my situation that I would not normally do,” one participant reported.

“It made me understand that I was not in this thing alone,” another said.

Additional benefits of the program include assistance in finding local services and resources and access to respite care during counseling sessions.

“As the sessions went on, I was able to mobilize resources for me that I wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for the counselor – from support groups to financial planning to just figuring out what the issues were,” one program participant said. “She really helped guide me.”

Similar programs, Jensen added, have been shown to delay the need for nursing home care.

“We’ve had primary caregivers who weren’t quite sure how to tell other family members they needed help,” Jensen said. “They didn’t know how to divide the load of responsibilities. Bringing families together in this setting with guided support from a skilled counselor helps these caregivers realize they are not alone.”

To determine if you are eligible for this program or to learn more, call Riverside toll free at (888) 597-0828 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Published: November 20, 2017