By Kristie Hanson
Lisa Rood, former Department of Senior Services employee, worked for many years with individuals who were caring for loved ones. She quickly noticed that dementia caregivers did not have time to read the literature about the disease, but desperately needed support.
Based on Mark Warner’s Alzheimer’s Proofing Your Home, Lisa Rood developed a program where she could enter a home and offer suggestions (often cosmetic) to make the home safer and easier to care for loved ones. Think of curtains waving looking like people or striped walls feeling much like jail. Though these experiences are initially frightening to individuals with dementia, Lisa learned that objects like dark rug’s placement could be used to a caregiver’s advantage as a perception blockade to keep a loved one from wandering outdoors.
Spouses caring for spouses with dementia can often be sad and exhausting. Adult day care is difficult for some to trust and challenging to afford. Auspiciously, when retired couples from the Clarence United Methodist Church got together, even after some developed dementia, their regular determination to convene inspired Rood to turn her knowledge and experience into a working program.
After placing an article in the Hamburg Sun and receiving 32 volunteer responses, Lisa Rood knew a caregivers respite program would be the perfect opportunity for healthy and retired baby boomers to have something worthy to do. From 10:30 AM – 2:30 PM every second Wednesday of the month, the program, based on a social model of care, offers supervised activities to individuals with early to moderate stage dementia. She received permission to start the R Gang Respite Program as a ministry at Hamburg United Methodist Church, 116 Union St., Hamburg nearly nine years ago.
The framework of the program begins by partnering volunteer “buddies” with “guests.” After brain-stimulating quiet activities like puzzles and word searches with fresh cookies and coffee, special guests arrive ranging from therapy dogs to toddlers from the preschool to artists to local massage therapists. A monthly craft follows, which becomes a take-home token of personal satisfaction whether that is through gifting the craft (like a decorated picture frame of the participant) or through satisfying its purpose throughout the week (such as a birdfeeder).
Without fail, the midday lunch is donated monthly from church members. Lisa Rood emphasizes the incredible involvement of the faith-based community. Through volunteering, cooking, or donating craft supplies, this program has become naturally sustainable. $1,000, from a generous church member, started the program, and besides minimal craft costs, the monthly 4-hour respite is practically free to operate. Participants and their families do not incur any costs.
Gentle physical activity such as seated T’ai Chi follows lunch along with a popcorn toss ball game, bingo, and an olde-time sing-a-long. Given the many activities throughout the program, Lisa has found that many times the guests have a “key” that enlivens their spirits. For one gentleman, he began to dance with Rood during one month’s sing-a-long. Come to find out, he and his wife were once avid ballroom dancers. His eventual dance with his own wife didn’t leave a dry eye in the room when she thanked Rood, for he hadn’t embraced her like that for a great length of time.
When Lisa Rood began to understand the impact of this program on caregivers and guests alike, she spoke about it at her formal job, and the then Erie County commissioner, Randy Hoak, asked her to replicate it in other churches. With simple $1,000 startup funds, Lisa’s guidance, and a passionate coordinator, Rood has assisted the startup of twelve respites around the Buffalo Niagara region. Even after retirement, Rood has been contracted with Erie County to continue setting up programs, 5 of which are in the works today.
Under a Catholic Charities grant, Rood started respites in Wyoming, Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Genesee counties. Anne-Marie Doetterl, the Catholic Charities local caregiver advocate, now utilizes Rood’s respite framework to create programs in the city of Buffalo. Rood speaks to the ease of program startups, as forms, advertisements, photograph consents, and safety programs (through church protocols) are easily customizable. Her site visits, along with Alzheimer’s Association training for volunteers, ensures that content and communication is appropriate and enjoyable.
Rood spoke at a NYS Respite Caregiver Coalition summit in Albany a few years back, and it is obvious that her work is both respected and upheld beyond Western New York. The simplicity of the program that she sensibly reiterates is only due to her ample knowledge, ability to involve an overly willing community of volunteers, and her personal faith-based care for others.
Lisa Rood’s leadership is a true blessing to Western New York, as her professional work has coincided with compassionate ministry as an outreach program that affects couples beyond their years. Though the program may be effortless in her mind, Lisa’s tender grace threads through dozens of these programs and into the participants’ and caregiver’s lives alike.