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Better Caregiving Starts with Support

How to build a caregiving team that eases that eases the burden and betters the care.

“When your loved one has a stoke it shatters your entire life,” June Wolfe said.  She and her husband, Vince, shared a happy family life of work, hobbies, friends, interests and volunteer activities. Then, in November 2004 Vince became incapacitated by a bleeding stroke, also known as a brain aneurism.  

Suddenly, his care, along with all the tasks they once shared fell to June. Their three young children lost their father to the stroke, and much of their mother’s time and attention to the relentless demands of caregiving. June described herself as rushing through the long days and nights, constantly torn between the endless needs of her husband and her children.

For most caregivers, if support exists at all, it tends to grown haphazardly around the condition and medical emergencies, but studies have shown that a properly functioning network of support reduces stress on the caregiver’s immune system and protects against caregiver burnout.

Support may be emotional or tangible, but either way allows the caregiver time to rest and replenish.

An effective network of support maintains the caregiver as the primary case manager; coordinating and delegating. The team should consist of people with different skills, working in harmony, to provide the most comprehensive care possible. For example, one family member may volunteer to facilitate physical rehabilitation several days a week, while a neighbor may offer to cook or clean.

Start building a network of support by doing the following:

  • Accept offers of respite care, whether by friends, family or local professional agencies.
  • Delegate something for everyday of the week, so your helpers know when they are expected, and so you know when you can expect help.
  • Participate in local or online support groups. The leaders are very knowledgeable about community resources and other members may also offer support.
  • Keep an ongoing to-do list. Circle in red items you find the most difficult or stressful, then shift those tasks to people who have offered to help or to qualified agencies.
  • Carry copies of your to-do list and as people offer to help, let them select from your list.

Think of to-do list items as having a weight in pounds, and each task shifted to someone else lightens the load so you can survive and even thrive as caregiving. If you have difficulty asking others for help, engage someone you trust to take on the task. If they’re good at it, they probably enjoy doing it. Keep in mind that others like to help. Know yourself and your limitations and keep seeking the people and services that will return caregiving to a joyful experience.

After her experiences with her husband June Wolfe collaborated with colleague and stroke survivor Jim Underhill to start a support group in their area. “I only wish we could reach more family caregivers before it’s too late,” she said.

By: Maya Hennessey, author of, "If Only I’d Had This Caregiving Book."

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"Studies have shown that a properly functioning network of support reduces stress of the caregiver’s immune system and protects against caregiver burnout."

Did You Know?

Studies have shown that the stress of caregiving weakens the immune system. Few caregivers are aware that giving up self care increases their risk of becoming the second casualty of their loved one’s condition. As the immune system weakens colds, flu bugs or genetic weaknesses flourish. Without time for rest, relief and emotional decompression, anxiety and depression mount, further burdening the immune system.

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