Caregivers: Reach Out and Call Someone

Help is on the way! Marc Lagneau via Creative Commons

In the same year Margie Harris’s marriage imploded, her elderly mother had a stroke and moved into her San Antonio home. A big enough disaster, but her mother had been living with, and taking care of, Harris’s blind brother.

Talk about stress! It turns out, that’s exactly what Harris, 59, wanted to do–talk about stress with other overwhelmed caregivers. But, she had no time to leave the house.

Not a problem, thanks to The Caregivers Tele-Connection, a free one-hour telephone program designed to reach isolated caregivers. The idea is to make it easy for them and affordable. No scrambling for respite care or hassling with transportation. Sessions at different times of the day and in Spanish, too.

Harris goes to the caregiver website and sees a list of topics that will be discussed. If they interest her, she dials a number and listens to other caregivers’ challenges, interacts with them, if she chooses, and gets info and resources from an expert (physician, therapist, financial pro, gerontologist, attorney). They also answer callers’ questions.

“From the program I’ve learned that isolation is poison to your soul, so you’ve got to reach out,” says Harris, who has taken up yoga and exercise and sat in on 15 sessions so far. “I’ve found out I’m not alone.”

Since the Wellmed Charitable Foundation began offering sessions in May 2010, first in San Antonio and now statewide, close to 500 caregivers have participated. Wellmed is partnering with organizations, some disease specific, and agencies so they can share it with their members.

The Caregivers Tele-Connection, modeled on the Canadian program Care-Ring Voice, expects to go national this July (although Wellmed already has some participants outside the Lone State). The beauty of the telephone is that you can live anywhere and take part.

Paula Solomon, a social worker and life coach, conducts telephone talk groups, which she calls “psychological respite for caregivers” from her office in Arlington, Mass.

“It is not a therapy group,” says Solomon, who has also run similar sessions for her local Parkinson’s chapter. “It’s a place where caregivers can talk about meeting their own needs in a way that doesn’t feel like letting their loved ones down.”

Solomon’s point is that if you take care of yourself, both your quality of life and the way you care for your parent or spouse will be better.

A real voice at the other end of what otherwise may seem like a very lonely, long line is one way to try and find this balance.

Participated in any sessions? What was it like? Know of others?

To find a telephone caregiver group: