By Anna Jauhola
For Jerry and Jody Peterson, nothing is normal and day-to-day life can be exhausting.
In 2013, the Lancaster couple’s life changed when Jerry was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Jerry retired from his job as custodian at Lancaster School in 2014 and Jody retired from in-home daycare to care for her husband of 40-plus years.
“We’d never have been able to do it if I couldn’t retire,” Jody said of keeping Jerry at home. “We’re blessed to live in a small town and our church family has been very helpful. I know if I need anything, they’d help.”
Recently, the Petersons worked with Northwest Community Action in Greenbush to have respite care. However, the cost was mounting and they’ve taken a break from it until March.
Respite care provides a break for caregivers, whose lives typically become completely immersed in caring for their loved one, whether it be a spouse or drop-in care for a parent or other relative. Lutheran Social Services provides this type of non-medical care through volunteers and is searching for volunteers for Kittson County.
Respite volunteers provide company and safety for the client while the caregiver takes a few hours off to get their hair cut, go to the grocery store or just visit with friends and other family.
“To be a caregiver, some think it is full-time caregiving, but that’s not true,” said Monique Duray, Lutheran Social Services regional manager and respite care coordinator for Kittson, Roseau and Lake of the Woods counties. “We have people who go to work during the day, stop by Mom’s on the way home, help her throw in a load of laundry, or maybe stop by before bedtime and make sure she’s settled.”
No matter the situation, caregivers are always on call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Duray said. A caregiver can become isolated and exhausted when they do not get a break.
Duray has been working to incorporate volunteer respite care in Kittson County, but has not recruited any volunteers to date.
For the Petersons, laughter and humor is a daily asset. When asked how they keep busy each day, Jerry – ever the jokester – responded, “Just layin’ in the weeds.” The couple often laugh and jest like this because keeping a sense of humor is important, Jody said.
Despite the humor and added bonus that Jerry doesn’t wander, as many with Alzheimer’s do, the constant caregiving is draining.
“There’s so many needs that by the end of the day, I’m so tired. To have you come today, it was motivation to get up, get the house cleaned up and Jerry showered and shaved,” Jody said to this reporter. “Otherwise, I’d still be in my robe.”
She said the isolation can be a problem because her life is so focused on caring for Jerry.
“We just kind of go day by day. Watch a good movie, he loves Westerns. We dance a little to music. We sleep late and we’re up late,” Jody said.
There is a caregiver support group every third Thursday at Kittson Healthcare Center in Hallock. However, not many people attend, Jody said, because there’s a stigma attached of not wanting people to know they need help or don’t want to accept that they need help.
Jody considers herself fortunate to have a few close friends who stop by and hang out with Jerry for a few hours so she can attend events, run errands or just take a couple hours for herself. She knows there are others who do not have that luxury and believes the LSS volunteer program would be a great asset to the county.
“There are so many people that come to me and say, ‘Just call if you want me to come stay for a couple hours,’” Jody said. “So, if there were someone managing the volunteers, that would be awesome. I think the volunteer force is there, but it just needs to be set up.”
Anyone age 17 and older can be a respite volunteer, Duray said. If they can pass a background check, and driving check if they’re willing to take clients to a community event or out to lunch, they can volunteer.
“I think there are people out there, but it takes a bit to get the word out,” Duray said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people who said they wish they’d had the program years ago when their mom was sick. I know there’s a need, but just connecting with people who have that need is tough.”
Currently, Duray has one family just outside Hallock who is waiting for a volunteer match to provide respite for the caretaker.
“They’ve been waiting for a while,” Duray said.
The approximately 20 hours of volunteer training is flexible and is required before heading out to clients’ homes, Duray said. The coordinator will come to volunteers to do in-person training, while other training is independent study and webinar activities.
LSS works with AmeriCorps to help provide compensation to volunteers. All volunteers receive a $200 per month stipend, which basically pays for gas. Community volunteers need to be available for at least two hours per week.
Volunteers interested in earning a scholarship are asked to dedicate at least nine hours per week to the respite program in order to receive $1,600 per year over a four-year period, Duray said.
Younger volunteers can put this amount can be put toward higher education and volunteers over 55 can gift the scholarship to a child or grandchild.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer for the in-home, non-medical respite program through LSS can contact the regional office at 218-452-1681. Anyone with further questions about the LSS Caregiver Respite Services, can call 1-800-488-4146.
By Anna Jauhola