National Volunteer Program Will Help Seniors Age-in-Place

Evelyn lives on her own in her one-story family home in Vienna, VA. Her family visits when they can, but with work and the grandchildren’s sports schedules, it’s not nearly enough. Evelyn often feels lonely and could use some companionship once in a while. She would certainly welcome help with rides to doctor’s appointments, assistance making the beds, help with raking leaves and shoveling snowy sidewalks, and help with cooking some meals. Imagine a government program that would mobilize volunteers to help seniors with these types of things! One is on the way and other programs already exist.

Caregivers Need Help Now and Will in the Future

Currently, the oldest Americans ― those ages 85 and over, who tend to have multiple chronic illnesses and difficulty performing daily tasks ― are set to more than double in 2040, up from more than 6 million now. More than 34 million unpaid family caregivers currently shoulder a huge part of the responsibility of caregiving for these seniors, along with more than 3 million paid personal care and home health aides. With the growing need for caregivers and not enough available, who will be there to care for these seniors?

Millions in Funding is Allocated Towards Establishing a National Volunteer Care Corps

For years, eldercare activists have advocated for a Peace Corps-like organization to mobilize volunteers to help older adults age-in-place. Now the Administration for Community Living (ACL), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is taking steps to establish a National Volunteer Care Corps.

The Oasis Institute has been awarded a five-year, $19.7 million grant from the Administration for Community Living (ACL) to launch the program in partnership with the Caregiver Action Network, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and Altarum’s Program to Improve Eldercare.

According to Paul Weiss, president of the Oasis Institute, “(w)e recognize caregiving as a challenge that impacts families in ways that can limit quality of life tremendously. We are excited to help fund a program that encourages creative approaches to improve the lives of those who find themselves in the position of providing ongoing care for loved ones.”

How the Volunteer Care Corps Would Work

The Volunteer Care Corps will develop innovative ways for volunteers to help family caregivers, older adults, and/or people with disabilities to maintain their independence.

• This notion of a domestic Peace Corps for caregiving has been circulating since 2013, when it surfaced in a Twitter chat on elder care. In 2017 and 2018, bills introduced in Congress proposed a demonstration project, unsuccessfully. Now, four organizations (mentioned above) will spearhead the Care Corps project.

• Oasis will disseminate a request for proposal through multiple channels before the end of this year. They anticipate the first year of funded pilot programs to be announced in Spring 2020. Programs selected for funding will be evaluated, with a menu of best practices to be developed and shared nationally.

• Next spring, up to 30 organizations will get 18-month grants of $30,000 to $250,000, to create a volunteer infrastructure that can last and be sustainable.

• The program will ensure that seniors would not only get a hand with household tasks, but also companionship and relief from social isolation. Services could include preparing meals, taking seniors to church or home-based tech support for computer users, among many other possibilities. And family caregivers could get a break.

• Recruiting volunteers could prove to be challenging, as it currently is for programs of this sort. As an incentive, younger volunteers could qualify for class credit at a community college or small stipends. Older volunteers could enjoy a satisfying sense of purpose.

• All volunteers will undergo background checks and training, and there will be an emphasis on evaluating program results.

• Since building relationships with seniors is important, volunteers will be asked to commit to at least a year.

• Although the budget is relatively low, programs may find ways to license successful models, and local and national foundations could then step in with additional support.

Current Senior Corps and Other Volunteer Programs Already Exist. Which Ones are Near You?

Scores of volunteer programs serving seniors and people with disabilities already exist, but most are small and many older adults and their families don’t know about them. How they’ll interact with the national Volunteer Care Corps initiative is not yet clear.

One such program is the Senior Companion program which is run by the Corporation for National and Community Service. In this program, volunteers ages 55 and older visit needy older adults and help them with tasks such as shopping or paying bills. About 10,500 volunteers spend 15 to 20 hours a week, on average, serving 33,000 seniors through this program. To learn if Service Corps’ companion program is available near you, use this new tool on its website. The group also offers less intensive services to 300,000 older adults and people with disabilities through its Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

Another program is the CAPABLE program. Sometimes it gets hard for older people to do the things that make independent living possible, such as cook a meal or get in and out of the bath. The CAPABLE program targets these obstacles, not just with therapy for the individual, but with some TLC for the home.

The Caregiver Action Network is also trying to provide help by launching a hotline specifically for caregivers. It’s not just for how to handle things like doctor’s appointments, medication, or finances; they provide emotional support as well. You can reach the Caregiver Help Desk by calling 1-855-227-3640. You can also chat with them on caregiveraction.org or email them on that same site.

Lastly, another source is the National Volunteer Caregiving Network, which lists about 700 programs, most of them church-based, on its website.

To learn about other volunteer programs in your community, contact a local senior center, a nearby Area Agency on Aging or your county’s department of aging, experts suggest. ACL’s Eldercare Locator can help you identify these organizations.

Volunteer Caregiving Makes a Difference

Volunteer caregiving can make the difference when it comes to someone having a better quality of life. Volunteers are instrumental in helping seniors who are trying to live independently and reaching out to seniors who don’t have family members on birthdays and holidays, among other services. Thank you to all the volunteers who give their time to helping seniors each day!

When Aging-in-Place is No Longer an Option

What happens when your loved one can no longer age-in-place? Nursing homes in Northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C. Metro area cost $12,000 – $14,000 per month (a few thousand less in the Fredericksburg, Virginia area), which can be catastrophic even for wealthy families. By being proactive and helping your loves ones plan for long term care in advance, you can help make sure your loved ones always receive the care they need without worry or financial struggle. You’ll further avoid many costly legal headaches that often result when people are not prepared for incapacity or ongoing care needs. It’s never too early or too late to get started. Reach out to us to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation:

Elder Law Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Law Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Law Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Law DC: 202-587-2797

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