SELMA – Seniors who packed an informational meeting sponsored by Congressman David G. Valadao, R-Hanford, came with questions and left with answers after hearing a number of presentations from staff from the Valley Caregiver Resource Center (VCRC).

The meeting was Oct. 14 at the Nick Medina Senior Center where the congressman first gave an update on current legislation he’s working on and water and drought issues before turning the podium over to presenters who shared information offered by the VCRC.

The nonprofit services the Central Valley and assists seniors and their caregivers with such issues as prescriptions, choosing Medicare plans, an ombudsman program for residents in care facilities and caregiver resources. They also operate the OASIS Adult Day Care facility and the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program.

VCRC Program Manager Yee Vue said there are an estimated 4.5 million people in the state taking care of family members at home. If they all decided to use facilities instead, there simply wouldn’t be enough beds available, he said.

“[Caregivers] are at higher risk for anxiety, stress, depression and heart disease,” Vue said. “So what’s available to help you the caregiver so that you can still take care of your loved one at homes as long as possible?”

Vue detailed some of the services such as respite care, caregiver classes, support groups, legal guidance and one-on-one counseling.

“If your loved one has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, how can you respond to their challenging behaviors and the repetitiveness? We have ongoing classes to give you those tools and those skills to respond to your loved one’s situation.”

Vue said caregivers often need to hear from others in similar situations and get help with their changing roles.

“It’s important to connect with other caregivers. It also helps validate the feelings you’re going through so you know you’re not the only one experiencing this. As a caregiver, you have changing roles. Maybe the daughter becomes the mother now. Or the working caregiver is no longer working.”

Vue admits that even he hasn’t planned for aging as well as he should have and he hopes residents take steps to set up a long-term care plan.

“I have visited clients that live in the foothills. That’s a great retirement but once you’re up there, getting service to come up to the foothills can be challenging.”

With the average cost of in-home care costing $22 an hour, Vue said he’s aware of some families paying $20,000 a month for in-home care.

“So it doesn’t go a long way when you think about out-of-home care. So we need to think about how do we live at home as long as possible?”

Vue said their program covers the entire Central Valley from Stanislaus County down to Kern County and that state and federal grants are available to see if residents qualify for their services.

Vue said they don’t currently have any support groups in Selma, but if there were enough participants, they would facilitate one. He encourages residents to log on to their website to see which support groups and classes are available.

After the presentations, Selma resident Pete Esraelian said he appreciated the congressman’s efforts to be available to his constituents and arrange such events.

“Of all the years I’ve lived in Selma, I don’t recall any congressman that’s been as available in visiting Selma and his district. I know he visits other locations and I appreciate him bringing these various services to Selma,” Esraelian said.

Since seniors are particularly vulnerable to internet and mail scams, Esraelian said he was glad to hear that Valadao has been successful in passing legislation that requires government agencies to remove personal information from mailers.

“Some [private information] is on post cards where you don’t even have to open the mail to get personal information,” Esraelian said.

Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program’s Diane Aznar said she informed attendees of upcoming changes in Medicare cards, how to make an appointment for counseling and if there’s a charge for their services.

“Also there are scams out right now and the new Medicare cards aren’t even out yet. Everyone in the United States will get new Medicare cards mailed to them,” Aznar said. To ensure the cards arrive to the correct location she said residents need to make sure the United States Social Security Administration has their current address.

Aznar said they can also review long-term care policies. “We go over them and make sure they understand what they’re signing and what their plans are for the future.”

She advises seniors and their caretakers to be aware of what’s available well before such resources are needed.

“Always find the resources in your community before you need them. That’s one of the most helpful things I learned working here: find your resources.”

Senior Center Nutrition Coordinator Toni Hill said she was glad the issues were addressed at the meeting as seniors often raise such questions with her and other staff members.

“They addressed Alzheimer’s and care at the Oasis. There are a lot of people suffering from dementia so it’s nice there’s a place they can go to for help. It’s hard on the caregivers or the spouse or the children taking care of them. A lot of the seniors also worry about the cost. They have these programs but it’s how much is it going to cost and will my insurance cover it?”

Valadao field representative Eileen De Raadt also let audience members know the congressman can help resolve problems with federal government agencies such as Social Security, Veterans Affairs and immigration.

“If it’s a federal agency we can open up a case with you,” De Raadt said.

For those who missed the session, help with federal agencies is also available online at valadao.house.gov/services/federalagency/.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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