LIFESTYLE Relationships  >  Building a Caregiving Team – First Steps

Building a Caregiving Team – First Steps

Building a Caregiving Team – First Steps
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By Kelli Dunham

In our pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps culture, the thought of reaching beyond our nuclear family in order to get help with caregiving can seem daunting and even borderline negligent. But building caregiving teams is anything but irresponsible; it is a matter of survival. According to a recent AARP report (The Economic Value of Family Caregiving) 17 percent of all caregivers felt their health had suffered within one year of taking on a caregiving role. For caregivers who spend more time caregiving, the physical impact can be even more marked.

The concept of “we take care of our own” may have worked in the past when extended families stayed in close geographical proximity and when families were larger. However, between our mobile society and the general decreased birth rate, we’re well beyond the point of keeping caregiving all in the family.

Although it does require an initial outlay of energy and time, building a caregiving team can be joyful rather than difficult and you can proceed as quickly or as slowly as you’d like. Some important first steps:

#1. Talk with your loved one about your plan to get help caregiving. For the older generation, receiving help from people who are outside the family may cause intense feelings and you will need to explain the reasons for your decision.  The best explanation is an honest and simple one, couched in terms of  sustainability.  Reassure your loved one that they will be involved in all decisions about who is assisting. If your loved one is having trouble accepting the help, it can be helpful to remind them how good it feels when they have the opportunity to assist someone.

#2. Brainstorm–ideally with your loved one and any other involved family members present– types of tasks and responsibilities that could conceivably be “outsourced.” Mostly these tasks will be the less intimate ones, those not involving physical care or which don’t require a lot of vulnerability. This in NOT where you suggest to your aging veteran dad that the next door neighbor help him with going to the bathroom; the conversation will be shut down immediately. Instead, focus on activities that either support you as the caregiver or your family as a unit. For example, a caregiving team could help with:

–Babysitting for kids while you take your parent to doctor’s appointments

–Help with meals during times when caregiving takes a particular toll (eg treatment days, etc)

–Assistance dealing with insurance companies, hospital bills or other red tape

–Picking up/dropping off laundry (minus the delicates)

–Weekly food shopping

–Rides: for your loved one to medical or recreational activities or for your kids to school activities

#3. Once you’ve gotten through the first brainstorm activity, think about the people that you and your loved one and your extended family have as part of your outer circles. Don’t focus yet on who would do what task or any other specifics. Right now you’re just trying to make a comprehensive list of potential care team members who might want to be involved in even a small way.  Think in terms of:

— Folks in close geographical proximity, especially neighbors

–Faith communities and smaller circles within your faith community, for example, the choir or the altar society

–Co-workers or former co-workers

–Community or civic groups that you or your loved one have been involved in

–Hobby associations or special interest groups that you or your loved one have been involved in.

#4 Once you’ve gotten a list of these folks, talk with your loved one about how comfortable they would be having any of these people involved in their care.  Some of the tasks (for example, laundry) may feel personal but might not involve any real risk besides the inherent discomfort of having a not-family person touching your dirty tee shirts. On the other hand, tasks that might involve access to your house (dropping off or warming up meals) or your personal and financial information (helping advocate around medical bills) should only be made available to people you trust.

Listen carefully to your loved one during this conversation to see just how “bought in” they are to the idea of building a team. If they are struggling with your suggestions, ask questions until you can understand the specifics of their difficulty. They might be worried about vulnerability, about not actually having the care they need if unrelated helpers are involved, about seeming weak or something altogether different.  Reassure them that you will work to find the best solution and that you’re not abandoning them.

#5. Based on your conversation and understanding of your loved one’s buy-in, reassess what level of care team you can realistically construct right now. This might be an important time to remind your loved ones of the benefits of having a full team involved;

–Getting to spend more time with you when you are less exhausted; your quality time together will increase

–Having access to conversations, interactions, etc beyond their currently limited social circle. They will get to hear the latest news/gossip about church, the workplace, etc, information you may not have access to.

–Increased flexibility and access to help. For example, if you’re the only one driving your loved one to clinic appointments, they will likely need to be dropped off when you are available. If you have a friend that can help drive, perhaps they can go early to the clinic to have coffee at the next door cafe.

#6 Decide which tools you will use to organize your caregiving team. The simplest way to do this is with an email list and a google doc where people can sign up for specific activities. If you’re interested in a few more functions, you can use some of the worksheets available through Share the Care (a team caregiving resource website) or invest in setting up a caregiving site through one of the online portals such as

#7. Send an email (or, if more appropriate, make phone calls) to folks you’ve selected as potential care team recipients. Explain why you are asking for help, and reassure them that no one will be asked to pitch in more than they want. Ask them to attend a short meeting to talk about the care team. You’ll need to make it clear that it won’t be a hard sell and that you’re simply offering them a chance to get involved if they’d like to.  Most folks will jump at the chance to help if they know it will come with good support and clear expectations.

#8 Using the tools you have selected, meet with the potential team members and discuss what type of help they might be interested in providing. Your loved one may choose not to participate in this meeting (navigating these offers of help can be intense for someone who is sick) but be sure to brief them afterwards.

#9. Start your caregiving team! Expect a few difficulties along the way and encourage everyone to be open and honest about their feelings and expectations. It might take some effort to get underway but you will be amazed how much more manageable caregiving will be when you’ve got a team backing you up.

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