When Mary Still's husband Albert started showing signs of dementia, she knew she could no longer leave him at home alone.
Albert has health problems, including congestive heart failure and diabetes that often make it difficult for him to leave the house. He also becomes anxious when his wife is away.
"If I move, he moves," said Mary. "I think he's afraid I'm going to desert him, but I would never do that. We've been married 53 years."
Mary found herself in a predicament that many caregivers experience: she had no time for herself. She couldn't make it to her own medical appointments or to church on Sundays. "And I'm a person who goes to church every week," she said.
Mary and Albert felt somewhat isolated in their Woodville home. Mary, who is 78, was born on the property and still tends to the roses her grandmother planted. She was a volunteer at Woodville Elementary for 13 years but had to give that up when Albert's health declined. The couple has a peaceful life with family members nearby who help as much as they can, but Mary needed a break.
Things began to improve after someone during one of Albert's frequent hospital stays mentioned Big Bend Hospice (BBH). Mary called BBH and learned that Albert wasn't eligible for Hospice, but there was another program that could help, the Transitions Program.
Mary Dyal, a trained Transitions volunteer, now stays with Albert while his wife goes to physical therapy and to church services.
"I've been dealing with shoulder pain from a car accident for a long time," said Mary. "I should have been going to physical therapy before, but it's difficult to get people to stay with [Albert]. Now, I have all the confidence in the world that I can leave him. I know he's going to be safe."
Transitions offers free support for individuals who have a life-limiting illness but are not yet eligible for Hospice care and their caregivers. Social workers provide resource linking and assistance in coping and decision-making. Trained volunteers provide companionship, respite care, assistance with errands and transportation.
The program has been a lifesaver for the Stills. They've developed a special bond with Dyal.
"We hang out, watch TV and talk about fishing," Dyal said during one of her recent visits with Albert. The two were watching Animal Planet while Mary was at physical therapy.
"He's my buddy," said Dyal.
"And she's all right with me," Albert said as he relaxed in a recliner.
Dyal began volunteering for Big Bend Hospice after her husband received end-of-life care at Margaret Z. Dozier Hospice House. She also lives in Woodville, just down the street from Albert and Mary.
"She calls to check in on us and makes sure we're OK," said Still. "She's a very concerned person."
The Transitions program also connected Mary to caregiver training through Big Bend Hospice's partnership with the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving. The training has helped her communicate better with Albert and cope with challenges such as his restlessness at nighttime.
"It's been a blessing," Still said of Transitions. "It's just like family."
For more information about Transitions, contact Bobbie Massey, LCSW and Transitions Manager, at (850) 878-5310 or email email@example.com.