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Budget ax could fall on caregiver support

Maxine Volkert (left) is able to take care of her husband, Robert, at home thanks to support from family, friends and the Alzheimer's Family Caregiver Support Program.

Families trying to care for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease could be in for some disappointing news.

Funding for Wisconsin's Alzheimer's Family Caregiver Support Program is on the budget chopping block and program advocates are scrambling to save the important services.

Since 1984, the state has provided up to $2,000 per family for services such as respite care, housekeeping, transportation and nursing. The funding is viewed as a way for Alzheimer's patients and those with other forms of dementia to avoid or delay having to move into a nursing home.

St. Croix County receives about $16,000 a year to provide such services for caregivers and families.

In this county, a large chunk of the money is used to fund the DayAway respite program on Tuesdays.

The drop-off program allows caregivers six hours of free time to catch up on errands, rest or care for themselves.

Maxine Volkert, 78, New Richmond, found the service to be very valuable for her and her husband, Robert, 80. They used the service last year, until it was too difficult to transport Robert back and forth to the DayAway Club.

"It was good for him and it was good for me," Maxine said. "He was able to meet other people and do craft projects. He loved it."

Maxine used her free time to shop, go out for coffee or have lunch with a friend.

"I didn't have to worry about him for those six hours," she said. "I knew he was in good hands."

Without the DayAway program, and support from family and friends, Maxine is convinced that she wouldn't have been able to continue caring for her husband at home.

With the help, Maxine said she's able to deal with the daily challenges of caring for her husband of 60 years at home.

"I just think it's better for him to be cared for at home," she said. "If there's a way we can keep more people out of nursing homes, I'm all for it."

Maxine said she's disappointed that the state's caregiver funding faces possible cuts or elimination. She said in-home services actually save the state money.

Jill Scholer, New Richmond, agrees. She's been caring for her mother, Iva Love, at her family's home for the past four years.

"If this helps people keep their loved ones at home longer, I think it's a good solution," Scholer said. "It saves taxpayers a lot of money in the long run."

Love attends DayAway Club each week, giving her a chance to socialize with people her own age and participate in fun activities.

Even though Love doesn't have the ability to remember or look forward to each Tuesday's club gathering, Scholer said her mother loves her time while she's there.

"She really does enjoy it," she said. "When she leaves, she asks if she gets to do this every day."

Love, 83, first showed signs of Alzheimer's disease seven years ago. Scholer's dad took care of Love until he passed away.

It was always assumed that Love would live with her daughter's family if Love's husband wasn't able to care for her.

"It was obvious she couldn't take care of herself," Scholer said.

While she's glad she can be a part of caring for her mother, Scholer said the support offered through the Family Caregiver Support Program is important.

"It gives us a break," Scholer said.

As the nation's population ages, Scholer said, more families will need access to caregiver support programs to help keep loved ones out of nursing homes.

"We're going to have to start thinking about alternatives living arrangements for people with Alzheimer's or dementia," she said. "People in our generation are really going to have to deal with this issue."

Nancy Abrahamson, caregiver support coordinator with the Aging and Disability Center in Hudson, urged the public to contact their elected officials about the proposed cut in funding if they are concerned about the issue.

"The funding is really a drop in the bucket when you think about all the people it serves," she said.

About 15 clients receive services under the Alzheimer's Family Caregiver Support Program in St. Croix County alone.

"It's a phenomenal resource," Abrahamson said. "It works well for people who don't meet the guidelines for government assistance, yet they don't have a lot of means."

Programs to help educate caregivers, in-home services and out-of-home respite care would all be jeopardized if the cut occurs, she said.