Some of life's toughest moments are the focal point of a federal program run through the Lower Savannah Council of Governments, based on Wagener Road, in Aiken.

November is National Family Caregivers Month, and the month serves as a time to recognize and honor family caregivers across the country and raise awareness of family caregiver issues.

LSCOG's support program for family caregivers includes an outreach to provide short-term relief – temporary respite, as the assistance is called in this case – for people who are dedicating substantial amounts of time for the care of senior family members. "Senior," in this case, mostly refers to people 55 or older.

Mary Beth Fields, with LSCOG, said funding is mainly through the Older Americans Act, a federal program that supports such services as home-delivered meals, transportation and group dining.

"They're all programs that allow people to reside at home and age in place," she said.

The places cover plenty of territory, as LSCOG serves Aiken, Orangeburg, Allendale, Barnwell, Bamberg and Calhoun counties.

"In the United States, family members provide 80% of the long-term care given. Demands of care giving may be physically, emotionally and financially exhausting. Many family members may not identify with the term caregiver, but view themselves as just a spouse, a daughter, a son or a friend. A person of any age who is primarily responsible, on an unpaid basis, for coordinating, overseeing or giving care for someone close is considered in our program to be a family caregiver," according to the LSGCOG website.

Federal money, in the case of the LSCOG program, comes via the Older Americans Act, and the state legislature is also on board, and the South Carolina Alzheimer's Association also provides help, Fields said.

"Last year, in the Lower Savannah region, we served 566 people; and we spent a total of $666,000," Fields said. "That's a lot of money going out in the region to help provide the break that these caregivers need." 

Caregivers are eligible, once each year, for $1,500 in aid, with the blessing of the Department of Health and Environmental Control. 

"We give them three months to spend the $1,500," Fields said, noting that the money must be spent through an agency licensed by the Department of Health and Environmental Control and could be for adult day care or to provide a respite bed in a facility for a few days. 

"We don't pay the caregiver. We always pay the agency providing the care, but to ensure that licensed people are coming in the home, we do require DHEC certification," she added. "People use it to go to church or whatever the case may be. Go out of town – whatever that caregiver decides is their break."

The money, she added, can also be divided among multiple endeavors, such as $500 for the cost of a wheelchair ramp, $500 for respite care (through such organizations as Comfort Keepers and Right at Home) and $500 for incontinence supplies. Respite care is also available for seniors (55 or older) raising kids, as in the case of a grandparent bringing up his or her grandchild(ren).

Help is also available via a six-week class: "Powerful Tools for the Caregiver," Fields noted. "It's an evidence-based disease-prevention class that gives caregivers coping skills to help reduce burnout. Being a caregiver is a really hard job, and people burn out on it, and that's why respite is so important."