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Patching Maui’s Support Network

The Alzheimer’s Association of Hawai‘i’s Emergency Caregiver Respite Fund is allowing Maui caregivers some much-needed breathing room.

Patching Maui’s Support Network

Before the Maui wildfires in August 2023, Jeffrey Tanonaka ran his business, Lahaina’s Metropolitan Fine Art and Framing, in the heart of Lahaina town, about five minutes away from his house, where his 96-year-old father, a Hilo-born U.S. Korean War veteran, also lives.

His dad has dementia, and is losing his hearing and sight, and Tanonaka says his care has been becoming increasingly challenging. “He’ll have good days,” says Tanonaka, “and then he’ll have days that are questionable. I’m just not comfortable leaving him alone anymore.”

Help was available—Tanonaka’s 19-year-old daughter was pitching in both with the business and with caring for her grandfather, and the family is part of a tight-knit community of neighbors in Lahaina who would stop by to check on Tanonaka’s father and make sure he was OK while Tanonaka was at work.

After the fires, the situation became much more chaotic. Tanonaka’s storefront burned down, leaving him to rely on the generosity of different vendors and associates as he worked to piece his business back together in their spaces. His home, and those of his neighbors, were fortunately spared, but everyone was shaken and faced significant challenges as they cleaned up and worked to restore normalcy after the disaster.

In January 2024, Tanonaka applied for and was granted money from the Maui Emergency Caregiver’s Respite Fund through the Alzheimer’s Association of Hawai‘i, supported in part from a grant from the Maui Strong Fund of the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation. Tanonaka says this infusion of cash relieved the pressure on his family’s finances a bit, allowing him to “take a break and have a little bit of rest.”

The Tanonakas are one of 18 families who have been assisted so far by the Caregiver Respite Fund. LJ Duenas, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Hawai‘i chapter, estimates that there could be 100 or more Maui families caring for family members with dementia or Alzheimer’s in areas affected by the fires.

“More help is going to be needed as these families are moved into longer-term temporary housing, because they will need to look for employment, or to take a break from this situation they have been in for so many months,” Duenas says. Caring for a family member with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease at home is stressful, and burnout is common even under normal circumstances.

Families are awarded an initial grant of $2,500 to pay for services such as adult day care or in-home help, with the possibility of a second award, if needed. Duenas says, “$2,500 does not go a long way, but it allows these caregivers to take a breath and have a chance to take care of themselves.”

Patching Maui’s Support Network

Kehau Meyer, a program officer with HCF who works on Maui Strong Fund grantmaking, says it’s clear that much still needs to be done to provide additional resources/services for disabled and elderly Maui residents. The Maui Strong Fund team is continuing to review grant proposals for programs seeking to fill these kinds of needs, and encouraging additional support through sources such as government funding and direct donations. “We build our grantmaking strategies around filling gaps in service, and going ‘deep and narrow’ where support is needed,” Meyer says.

For now, Tanonaka is doing his best to focus on silver linings. “Even though the fire changed everything, we all have more time with each other now,” he says.

Help is Available
If you, a family member, or a loved one is caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, call (808) 591-2771 or visit http://alz.org/hawaii to apply for the Maui Emergency Caregiver’s Respite Fund.

Additionally, the Alzheimer's Association 24/7 Helpline is available around the clock, 365 days a year, at 800-272-3900. Through this free service, specialists and master’s-level clinicians offer confidential support and information.

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