Michigan org. provides support for caregivers of MI's aging population

Posted at 7:53 AM, Jan 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-16 07:53:24-05

METRO DETROIT (WXYZ) — With an infectious smile and a loving personality, K.C. Mehta says he found the perfect companion in his wife of nearly 50 years — Sumitra.

“In Sanskrit, ‘su’ means ‘good’ and ‘mitra’ means 'friend.' Good friend,” Mehta said.

But everyone calls her Sumi. Together, they raised a family. He worked as an Engineer with Chrysler. But 11 years ago, Sumi began to change. She started getting lost. First missing highway exits, then disappearing on the way to a friends for lunch.

“She was not answering her phone, and she came home after five hours,” Mehta said.

It was the onset of Alzheimer's. Today, K.C. cares for Sumi - bathing her and feeding her and tending to her needs. A challenge, since Sumi can no longer speak.

“I have to become a super detective reading her body language,” Mehta said of being of caring for his wife for more than 50 years.

It's a 24-hour a day job. And, although he does get some help, K.C. is on the clock nonstop.

“So when a caregiver is on 24 over seven caregiving duties, they often forget to take care of themselves,” said Julie Lowenthal.

And that can lead to a decline in health for the care provider, including depression, anxiety, isolation, or loneliness.

Julie Lowenthal runs the Caregiver Respite Voucher Program for AgeWays (formerly Area Agency on Aging 1-B). The Program offers up to $575 a year to allow caregivers to hire someone to step in and offer a break. The goal is to allow time for self-care and to avoid caregiver burnout.

“Whether that's taking a five-minute walk outside so that they can get that fresh air that they need, or reading the book that they've been meaning to read for the last year," Lowenthal said.

Or going to the doctor themselves. It gives caregivers the security of knowing their loved one is safe while they're away.

Oakland, Macomb, Monroe, Washtenaw, St. Clair and Livingston counties provide unpaid care to people over 60 at least two hours a week.

This program is available to anyone in Oakland, Macomb, Monroe, Washtenaw St. Clair and Livingston Counties providing unpaid care to someone 60+ for at least 2 hours a week.

That caregiver can be a professional. But with a direct care worker shortage, the program offers more flexibility.

“So they can use a friend, a family, a neighbor, perhaps to pay and pay them to provide that care,” Lowenthal said.

The program started in October, but it's already helping. One voucher user says she can go to the grocery store instead of using DoorDash or Instacart.

“One of the women in the program. She said she was able to go get her hair done, but she has not been able to do in a very long time,” she said.

For KC, the voucher will help him pursue his new purpose as a Alzheimer’s awareness advocate. He tells what he's learning in his 11-years as a caregiver in the book "My Journey with Sumi." It's also a beautiful story of transformation and partnership. KC knows caring for Sumi means caring for himself.

“24-7, you know. 365. She's with me. So that's my love,” Mehta said.

Ageways' Respite Voucher program is only one of the resources available for caregivers.

There is an online interactive educational platform to help at home families manage behavioral changes, contact doctors, and manage wounds.

They also offer coaching with one-on-one phone support available so caregivers can ask questions or just talk to someone who has been in their shoes.