Feeling Alone as a Caregiver? Build a Backup Team

Amy Goyer provides tips for getting help from family members and others to build your caregiving team.
Debbie, my concierge/assistant, helped us decorate and celebrate Halloween.

One of the most common questions I get from overwhelmed caregivers is, “How can I get my family members to help me more with caregiving?”

My advice: We can make ourselves crazy trying to change other people. We need to accept what they will and will not do, and think more broadly about who else can fill the gaps.

As a primary caregiver for my parents and other family members, I’ve found that I need different kinds of assistance. Some people help me with direct, hands-on care — assisting Dad with things like eating, getting out of the house or personal care such as bathing and toileting. But I also need help with hands-off care: dealing with paperwork, grocery shopping, cleaning the house or making phone calls and appointments.

If your family members aren’t comfortable or able to help with the hands-on tasks, consider requesting their hands-off assistance. Sometimes the best way to get help is to match people with a task they’re most willing or able to do.

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Some examples: My sister Susie lives too far away to have a regular physical presence, so I asked her to call Dad every evening; it really perks him up and makes bedtime easier for us. Periodically, she comes to Phoenix to help me with big projects, like reorganizing the garage and doing housework.

My sister Linda has recently moved to Phoenix to provide more care for Dad. She lives with us, and we pay her for some hours of care, but on her time off she also does grocery shopping, picks up prescriptions and helps care for Dad’s dog.

But I’ve built my caregiving team beyond my family to include people such as Debbie, who has a “concierge” business and charges a reasonable hourly fee. She helps with tasks like sorting the mail, running errands, doing online research, watering the plants and organizing closets. Even two hours with an extra set of hands can make a big difference.

I’ve always thought of Mom and Dad’s hairstylist, Paul, as a team member. He or his daughter used to pick up my parents and now he comes to the house when we can’t get Daddy to his appointment. If this kind of at-home care would be helpful, perhaps someone at your salon would be willing to come to you.

Of course, there are the friends and other loved ones who help me out with the countless tasks of caregiving. My boyfriend, Bill, often assists me with things around the house, including upkeep and modifications, on his periodic visits to Phoenix. My friends who don’t live in Phoenix often help me by researching treatment options; my friend, Laurette, has taken me on several vacations to the beach for much-needed respite and relaxation.

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Last — but definitely not least — is my partner in caregiving, Mr. Jackson, Dad’s service dog. His role is critical, and it’s definitely one I can’t play.

When I feel alone as a caregiver, I take an inventory of our team of family and friends who feel like family and realize how much backup I really have. The keys: Don’t be afraid to ask, and think imaginatively about how caregiving can become more of a group effort. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to help when the job is right for them.

See my book, Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving, for more specifics on building and managing your caregiving team.

Amy Goyer is AARP's family, caregiving and multigenerational issues expert; she spends most of her time in Phoenix, where she is living with and caring for her dad. She is the author of  AARP’s Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving . Follow Amy on Twitter   @amygoyer   and on   Facebook .

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