New program aims to connect Washtenaw County caregivers to individualized support

Free program connects caregivers to coaches, resources

WASHTENAW COUNTY, Mich. – A nonprofit organization in Michigan wants caregivers in Washtenaw County to get the coaching and support that they need. 

Offered by Area Agency on Aging 1-B, the free Caregiver Coaching program aims to help new and experienced caregivers by providing coaching, a listening ear and vetted referrals and resources.

“People just look at themselves as ‘oh I’m just helping my mom,’” said Amy Smyth, the caregiver coordinator for Caregiver Coaching at AAA 1-B. She added that while some people just see it as helping their older parents with grocery shopping, banking and going to appointments, they are in fact providing care.

“That’s all caregiving and it gets overwhelming at some point, so people need additional supports, which is why we started this program,” said Smyth.  

The free program is open to any informal caregiver and the process to get involved is simple: Caregivers reach out to Smyth who helps assess their situation and needs. She matches them to a trained volunteer coach who has caregiving experience. 

Coaches meet caregivers over-the-phone for a one-time consultation or to regularly talk through support options or scenarios, provide an empathetic ear and connect the caregivers to resources vetted according to state and federal guidelines. 

Smyth said that time is also an issue for caregiver. Many resources, like support groups, happen during working hours but caregivers experience questions or crises outside those set times. 

“So this volunteer-based program is designed to fill that gap when services and supports might not be readily available for caregivers,” said Smyth.

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Smyth said, based on Census data, there are around 58,000 family and informal caregivers in  Washtenaw County; however, not everyone identifies as a caregiver, which makes it difficult for them to find support resources. She added that data from AARP has found that 25 percent of caregivers are now millennials, who don’t fit the generally accepted idea of who is a caregiver.

Regardless of how they identify, Smyth said that community members who care for others, like neighbors, are still welcome to reach out to the program.

“We can still help them find the service or support they might need,” she said.

Anyone in a caregiver role that needs support should reach out to Amy Smyth at (248) 794-4577. 

The free program is funded through the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation’s Vital Seniors Initiative and is based on a program out of Westchester County, New York. It launched at the end of June after delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Area Agency on Aging 1-B is part of a national network and helps seniors and caregivers in Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair and Washtenaw counties.

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.