My day as a Community Relations Coordinator
I begin my week, having one day a week to organize and prepare materials to teach in senior complexes and meal-sites. I check my e-mails and voicemails every day and respond quickly. Now, during COVID, I call seniors checking on their mental health and general health. I take the time to mail Hallmark cards for every occasion, which are very much appreciated. Most of my days are spent in the community, visiting senior sites, and giving talks, or offering support to seniors who have been scammed. I change batteries monthly for clients with Project Lifesaver bracelets and offer support to caregivers during my visits.
In addition, I assist deputies who contact seniors in need of services. It could be a call with a senior citizen who was scammed out of money or assisting a homeless senior or a senior who frequently calls police.
My first step in our senior outreach was to keep them informed of all types of frauds, identity thefts, romance scams, and bogus money-making offers. This is a good sample of the presentations in my speaker series. Classes are held at senior complexes or senior meal-sites. The process starts by simply having a conversation with seniors, their interests, and service gaps.
The Sheriff’s Office has been very supportive throughout my 22-year career helping seniors. I started out by teaching classes and using resources from our community such as: Fire Safety, Law Enforcement, Ambulance, and Senior Services.
One successful project over many years is a senior picnic in Rutland County coordinated by “TRIAD”. Once a year many organizations get together as sponsors, fundraisers, and volunteers. Easily, hundreds of seniors and their guests are excited to socialize. They enjoy Bingo, K-9 demonstrations, Dept. of Motor Vehicle demos, fire safety demonstrations, ambulance health checks, and other senior services. It’s always a great day for food, fun and laughter.
TRIAD is a national partnership among law enforcement, older adults, and social services, to reduce the criminal victimization of older citizens. I am President of this board, connecting seniors to services and information through personal contacts and valuable information.
TRIAD sponsors an annual springtime Senior Seminar, held in April. This seminar is well attended and offers classes, such as teaching seniors cell phone technology, computers, gardening, knitting, crafts, local history, etc. This is TRIAD’S version of a “Spring Fling!” On a sad note: seminars were suspended because of COVID restrictions the past 2-years.
My second step was to expand these great resources throughout the community. The Rutland County Sheriff’s Office started a program called, “Project Lifesaver International” 15-years ago, the only program in Vermont. Project Lifesaver is designed to help caregivers taking care of someone who has a cognitive disorder such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism or a brain injury, and who’s prone to wandering. Project Lifesaver uses a radio transmitter bracelet attached to the ankle or wrist, emitting an individualized signal.
The caregiver of a loved one with dementia may call the Rutland County Sheriff’s Office or 9-1-1 to report a missing person registered on Project Lifesaver. A response team with a mobile locator will search for the missing senior, whose name and address are inputted into our computer system. Police officers query the missing person’s name and pull-up a photo and information about their condition.
Ask Open-ended Questions
When speaking to caregivers, I offer advice and discuss materials provided—coping strategies are well received. I explain to caregivers that the person they once knew has changed and they need to change the way they speak to their loved one. Using fewer questions requiring a “yes” or “no,” since in my experience someone with cognitive challenges almost always will say “NO” as an automatic response—it’s safe to say “no”.
When someone has dementia or Alzheimer’s there are many stages. One day the senior may like having their hair washed, and next it’s a real struggle. I see many dementia patients who do not like water in their face or on their head. One day they could unexpectedly walk out of their residence, never having done this before. I try preparing caregivers for these types of situations. I always leave caregivers my card. This gives the caregiver a contact for support.
We don’t stop there! We are on the Hospital referral list and Vermont 2-1-1 information hot line. You can start a Project Lifesaver in your area, call 1-877-580-LIFE
I do understand personally how caregivers feel dealing with a loved one who has dementia or Alzheimer’s. My mom had Alzheimer’s for 10 years before her passing. It truly is, “The Long Good-Bye.”