Telephone Support Program for Caregivers: A Pilot Project

Live webinar held November 15, 2011


Family caregivers of frail elders and persons with disabilities report significant stress as a result of the increased burdens and responsibilities they face on a daily basis. Caregiver burden has a negative impact on both the caregiver, in terms of mental health and physical illness, as well as the care recipient who may subsequently be at greater risk for institutional placement (Zarit, Bottigi, & Gaugler, 2007). These caregivers need additional support and resources to help reduce their stress and make them function more effectively. As many program providers have found, support services must be flexible in order to meet caregiver needs

Recent research has suggested that programs such as respite, support groups, counseling, and educational sessions have little effect on decreasing the burden that so many caregivers experience (Winslow, 2003). In developing an effective strategy to provide innovative yet quality support for caregivers it is also essential to reflect on the problems of nonuse, irregular attendance and attrition with standard support group meetings (Monahan, Greene, Coleman, 1992). In general, family caregivers are not present during the time their loved ones are at an adult care facility. It is challenging for service providers to judge caregivers’ stress levels and provide resources. Additionally, caregivers are balancing a multitude of family and work responsibilities and obligations. There is an evident need for professional and paraprofessional training to educate practitioners and providers on strategies to cope with the increasing demand for caregiver support programs.

Caregiver telephone support programs provide psychosocial support, information, and education to caregivers while taking into account the caregivers limited time and resources. In a study by Smith and Toseland (2006) it was found that telephone support decreased the amount of strain and depression on the adult caregivers. In a study by Colantonio et al. (1998), caregivers expressed a preference for telephone support over in- person group settings to meet their psychosocial needs.

In a continued effort to address the unique needs of caregivers, the Department of Gerontology in partnership with the Department of Occupational Therapy and A Grace Place Adult Care Center was funded by a grant from the Council for Community Engagement of Virginia Commonwealth University to pilot a caregiver telephone support program.


Sonya BarsnessSonya Barsness  is a Masters-prepared Gerontologist with over 15 years of experience in aging, primarily in long-term care and dementia care. Sonya has been a provider in assisted living and nursing homes. Her more extensive experience is in education, programming, policy, and research related to long-term care, dementia care, and person-centered care.

Sonya is currently a consultant and principal of Sonya Barsness Consulting LLC. As a consultant she works with organizations such as Pioneer Network and Planetree to support the enculturation of person-centered values in long-term care and healthcare. She is also adjunct faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Gerontology.

Sonya’s passion and vocation is changing the culture of aging, to include promoting personhood in dementia care.

Tracey Gendron completed the Masters in Gerontology program in 1995 with a concentration in Public Administration from VCU. She also has a Bachelor’s in Psychology from University of Central Florida.

She is currently a doctoral student in the Developmental Psychology program at VCU. She teaches the Biology and Physiology of Aging and Research Methods courses in the Gerontology Department. Her research interests include health disparities in the aging population and higher education through service learning and community engagement.

Her background includes work in geriatric research as a research project coordinator with experience in instrument design, data collection, interviewing, data analysis and report writing. In addition, she worked as a Senior Center Director serving over 1,300 senior citizens in the New York area.

Lynne SewardLynne Seward, CTRS is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist with a 44 year direct care experience with 23 years management experience in human services and rehabilitation.  She is well known for her energy, enthusiasm, focused advocacy and commitment to the needs and rights of persons with all abilities.  Lynne’s experience includes program development and supervision of therapeutic programs serving a variety of ages and disabilities, including pediatrics, geriatrics, psychiatry, acute care, oncology, physical rehabilitation and community care.  Populations served include persons with mental retardation, physical disabilities, mental illness and chronic illness, including dementia. She has developed Model Programs for dementia care and a community inclusion for adult s with intellectual disabilities.

Lynne is the CEO of A Grace Place Adult Care Center since 1987. A Grace place Adult Care Center provides supportive services to individuals and their caregivers who face the challenges of long-term care. Lynne had supported the expansion of agency staff from 4 to 95, the space from 2000 square-feet to 22,000 square feet, and the budget, from $24,000 to $3 million.

Lynne has received several awards including the “2008 Advancing the Common Good Award,” presented by United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg.


Ayn WellefordE.  Ayn Welleford, PhD, received her BA in Management/Psychology from Averett College, MS in Gerontology and PhD in Developmental Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has taught extensively in the areas of Lifespan Development, and Adult Development and Aging, Geropsychology, and Aging & Human Values. As an educator, researcher, and previously as a practitioner she has worked with a broad spectrum of individuals across the caregiving and long term care continuum.  As Associate Professor and Chair of VCU’s Department of Gerontology, she currently works to “Improve Elder Care through Education” through her Teaching, Scholarship, and Community Engagement. Outside of the classroom, Dr. Welleford provides community education and serves on several boards and committees.  She currently serves as Chair of the Governor’s Commonwealth of Virginia Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Commission. Dr. Welleford is the proud recipient of the 2008 AGHE Distinguished Teacher Award.

The free webinar is co-sponsored by A Grace Place Adult Care Center, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Gerontology and Department of Occupational Therapy, and AlzPossible.



Telephone Support v2a

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