Commentary: Block nurse program enhances lives of seniors and volunteers

By Jody McCardle

The Como Park-Falcon Heights Living at Home Block Nurse Program works annually with 50-plus neighborhood volunteers who care for seniors in many fantastic ways that embody this caring community. Many of these volunteers live in your community.

We cannot say enough about our volunteers: They provide rides to medical and dental appointments, prepare and share meals together, run errands, help make appointments, assist with yard work, and become lifelong friends. Committed and talented volunteers are the primary reason we are able to accomplish 4,500-plus hours of direct service to seniors and caregivers within our humble budget of $100,000.

One of our beloved seniors, Mary, has the beginning symptoms of dementia and lives alone in her home. Mary wants to stay in her home as long as possible. She loves her garden, she knows the layout of her home, and her house is filled with memories that help remind her of her life as her memory begins to fail. Mary has two volunteers who provide her with the friendship and practical support that make her dream of staying in her home a reality.

Dementia is tricky. Patients have good days and bad days, many outside factors affect dementia, such as nutrition, hydration, stress, transitions and medication. Some patients have what is called “sundowning,” meaning that during the day they exhibit less memory loss, but nearing the end of the day symptoms worsen and they can become agitated. Caregivers often describe caring for a loved one with dementia as living on a roller coaster with no controls. When our volunteers visit, one of the first things they do is bring the senior a glass of water. It is a small gesture, but if you ask any nurse, dehydration is common with seniors and can set off more health issues. Here are some facts about dementia:

• The number of people age 65 and older in the metro is expected to increase to 770,000 seniors by 2040. In Minnesota, 12 percent of the senior population has dementia, meaning more than 92,000 people will be living with dementia in the metro area by 2040.

• There are two and a half times more women than men providing intensive “on-duty” care 24 hours a day for someone living with dementia.

• In 2013, 15.5 million family members and friends provided 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care to those with dementia and this care is valued at $220.2 billion.

We feel fortunate that Mary reached out to us for the professional and volunteer help she needs. Mary, however, is unusual in that way. Many seniors choose not to reach out for help. The most difficult aspect of our job is getting seniors to accept a little bit of assistance before a crisis occurs. We provide useful no-cost services, one of the most important being a nurse visit for health assessment and a home safety check. Having a registered nurse available to provide free home visits is key to understanding how we can begin to help those in need.

Volunteers visiting in the homes of seniors make a huge difference to the quality of life for both the senior and volunteer. For some seniors it is the only outside contact they have beyond medical personnel. As winter approaches, helping your elderly neighbor with snow shoveling, garbage and recycling removes a danger for them that could result in unseen falls. We hope that you contact us if you or someone you know would benefit from our services.

The Como Park-Falcon Heights block nurse program serves residents bounded by Roselawn and Snelling avenues and the railroad tracks on the west and Larpenteur, Dale and Maryland avenues on the east. You can find out more at the website, www.comobnp.org or by calling 651-642-1127.

This year, we ask for your help with a donation to support our continued work to serve our neighborhood seniors. Donations are tax deductible and accepted through a secure site at www.comobnp.org or by sending a check to 1376 Hoyt Ave. W.,
St. Paul, MN 55108.

Jody McCardle is the executive director of the Como Park-Falcon Heights Living at Home Block Nurse Program. You can find out more about the program at www.comobnp.org or by “liking” them on Facebook.

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