How a Northern New York program helps support caregivers

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) More than 3 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Those who have the disease often need to be under 24-hour watch and care. It can put a lot on their caregivers but a North Country group is working to help with that. Our Kelly O'Brien has one family's story.

Bonni Benner's mother has Alzheimer's disease. Over the last five years, Benner has devoted her days and nights to watching over her mom, acting as her caregiver.

"She stays with me 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Benner said.

A caregiver's role is to watch over and make sure a person is doing their day to day tasks. Things like hygiene, making appointments, eating, even something as simple as walking has to be done with care to keep them safe. And that stress can take a toll on caregivers.

"If you know someone who is caregiving for someone with dementia, the burdens that they are experiencing are much more than what I can imagine what they let on," said Dr. Richard Durant of the Caregiver Support Initiative.

The National Center on Caregiving says that providing care for a chronically sick person can have harmful physical, mental and emotional consequences for the caregiver, and the evidence of that is growing.

"It's a difficult thing for someone to pay attention to if they're putting all of their efforts into caring for their loved one that has dementia, so it does increase risk for both individuals: health risks, safety risks," Durant said.

"Missing out on a lot of things, as husband and wife," Benner said.

Benner says she would feel selfish for wanting to do anything away from her mom until she learned about the Caregivers Support Initiative.

"It gives me the goose pimples when you ask me about it," she said.

Once a month, Benner and other caregivers meet up to exchange experiences and strategies.

"We can share and get ideas from each other and find out what works for them," Benner explained. "So I went home and I tried it, and some of the things work."

"There's no guarantee that the strategies are going to work but it's helpful to kind of know how to address certain issues," Clinton County Care Navigator Dorie Millington said.

The service is funded through grants from the state health department. They offer the support group, education on the disease and even pay for respite-- paying for someone to watch over the patient so the caregiver has some time off. This is a service you'll see all across the state offered free to caregivers.

"We're not income-based at all," Millington said.

Benner says that any caregiver who doesn't use the service should join them.

"I just tell them that you need to go, there is so much out there, you have no idea," she said.

Click here for the Caregiver Support Initiative.

The caregiver support group meets on the last Wednesday of every month. Click here for more on caregiver support group locations.