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New USC Centers Give Caregivers a Hand

Executive director Bob Knight and director Donna Benton lead the Los Angeles Caregivers Resource Center, headquartered at USC.

Photo by Irene Fertik

A $1 million grant from the California Department of Mental Health has allowed the Los Angeles Caregivers Resource Center to open three satellite offices in underserved communities across the county.

Headquartered at USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, LACRC is part of a statewide system of 11 nonprofit caregiver resource centers whose official mission is to help families and communities master the challenges of caring for adults with brain impairing conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, Parkinson’s and traumatic brain injury.

The satellite offices in South Gate and the San Gabriel and Antelope valleys have significantly extended the center’s ability to help those communities, according to LACRC executive director Bob Knight.

“These were community outreach programs that we’d wanted to do for quite some time,” said Knight, who holds the Merle H. Bensinger Professorship in Gerontology and is a professor of psychology and counseling psychology. “They are largely working-class and impoverished communities, and have typically been neglected in the course of social services planning. For whatever combination of historical reasons, a lot of the services for caregivers have ended up in West L.A., Pasadena and Long Beach.”

In Los Angeles County, about 15 percent of people over the age of 60 have dementia and require care, said Donna Benton, director of LACRC and an assistant research professor of gerontology. About 80 percent of those receive the care they need from their families. Caregivers frequently live with a great deal of associated stress.

“Generally, people who are caring for older adults with dementia have a lot of emotional distress,” said Benton. “They have higher rates of anxiety and depression than other people, and there’s some evidence for health effects as well, including depressed immune system functioning.”

The new offices opened in September 2001 and “really hit the ground running,” said Knight. “We’ve seen immediate successes at all three locations.”

Since then, according to LACRC program specialist Geraldine Trinidad, the number of families receiving respite service and the number of in-home assessments provided has more than doubled. The number of family consultations provided has almost doubled, and the number of support group sessions has more than tripled. Service delivery to the Asian and the Hispanic populations has increased 40 percent and 100 percent respectively.

According to Knight, “It’s easier to build relationships, to connect with other service agencies, and to do community education and other outreach activities if you’re physically present in the community.”

Many working people find it difficult to travel across town to USC, he said. “And for us, it’s practical from an administrative and staff standpoint. It was almost as difficult for us to keep commuting out from USC to the communities we wanted to serve better,” Knight said.

English and Spanish are spoken at both the Baldwin Park and South Gate offices, as well as at the USC office. In addition, the Baldwin Park (San Gabriel Valley) office has speakers of Mandarin, Cantonese and Taiwanese, and South Gate has a Cambodian speaker. Each office has a permanent staff of three.

LACRC provides a range of services to assist and educate people who must take care of aged family members with dementia. They include:

• On-site consultation – assessing the home living situation, advising caregivers on how best to delay institutionalization for their family members and putting them in touch with community support resources.

• Providing assistance to allow caregivers to take personal time off, such as helping to hire respite workers or arranging for adult day care.

• Arranging legal consultations with experts in elder law.

• Helping caregivers plan for their charges’ long-term care needs.

New USC Centers Give Caregivers a Hand

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