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“They were so helpful because I was in a panic and lost,” Allen said.
Operated through the Duke Dementia Family Support Program — part of the Duke Aging Center — the program offers ongoing support through confidential consultations related to geriatrics, family caregiving and dementia. Consultations can be in-person, through email, on the phone, or on Zoom.
From May 2021 through April 2022, the program’s four social workers met with 187 employees, many of whom were like Allen and had urgent concerns but didn’t know where to start.
“Folks will often say, ‘I just have no idea,’ and you shouldn’t have any idea until you’re in the moment,” said Natalie Leary, a social worker and program director for the Center for the Study of Aging. “That’s why we’re here: to help folks as they’re new to this journey.”
Duke Dementia Family Support Program connected Allen with a daughters’ support group, which is open to the public and attended by staff, faculty and their families. The bi-monthly confidential gathering is one of eight groups offered by the program. It's where Allen could be emotional, openly express concerns, listen to peer advice and talk through decisions she and her siblings were making, like moving her mother to a facility in Durham and seeking care as the dementia progressed.
Decisions about caring for aging loved ones became increasingly important during the pandemic, as COVID-19 complicated how families could check in on elders. Also, finding long-term care communities became more difficult during vulnerable times as the virus spread rapidly.
Antwan Lofton, vice president for Duke Human Resources, said the pandemic underscores the value of the program for a post-COVID-19 world.
“We value our employees from a holistic approach, not just what they produce, but we value them as people,” Lofton said. “Ensuring that their parents have the resources that they need, while also working with the children to make sure that they have resources that they need, is very important to us.”