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5 Ways for Caregivers to Build a Support System

Sally Abrahms
By Sally AbrahmsFebruary 21, 2019

Last Updated: February 21, 2019

When you’re caring for your parents or senior loved ones, you’re often in fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mode. There’s a crisis and you react. There’s a scrambling to find resources like adult day care or transportation, and meanwhile, your own life is teeming with your own responsibilities.

It’s hard to catch your breath, let alone consider your own future – but it’s important to think ahead during this time. Read our tips on how to build a support system now so that you can better plan for the years ahead.

5 Ways Caregivers Can Build a Support System

Thinking ahead about who will be there for you when you need care, what you want for yourself and where you want to live, among other things, is something to begin considering now. It means positioning yourself so that when you are older, you will have as much control of your life as possible. You don’t have to take action today, but you do need a game plan.

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“The reality is that adult children do not plan for their future and long-term needs the same way their parents haven’t planned for theirs,” says Rhonda Caudell, a former nurse and geriatric care manager from Atlanta.

Caudell believes that adult children — you! — must break that cycle and be prepared. “You’re giving your kids a gift,” she says. End-of-life and housing preferences, a living will, a power of attorney? Check.

Is building a support system also on that list? Here’s what the experts suggest caregivers do:

1. Assess your friend situation.

If you want more caring and interesting (or fill in the blank) people in your life, you will have to make an effort. Get involved in community activities and join committees or a walking group. Become a mentor or volunteer. Meetups are a good way to connect with people who have common interests.

There are organizations like The Transition Network (TTN) with chapters around the country for professional women age 50+ “whose changing life situations lead them to seek new connections, resources and opportunities.” Some of its chapters offer the Caring Collaborative, an initiative made up of TTN members who are “there for each other” when help or company is needed.

Barbara Stahura is active in the Collaborative’s New York City chapter. “When you meet women in a social setting, it’s easier to pick up the phone and ask for help. “If you know people in advance you have those personal connections.” A health care consultant who left her full-time job, Stahura, 62, has no children, no siblings who are alive and a husband with a chronic illness. While she’s healthy now, she knows an accident or something else could trip her up anytime. “I now have friends I’ve met through Caring Collaborative I can count on who’ve said, ‘don’t worry, let me know if you need help.’ It’s very reassuring,” says Stahura.

2. Create the life you want for the next phase.

Think about where you want to be, not only geographically but personally in the next 10 years. If you’re considering a move, figure out if you can afford it and what you will need to do to sell your home or condo in the future. Perhaps you can begin to do the work. Also, decide if you’ll have what you need when you need it (alternative transportation, doctors, movie theaters and restaurants nearby, for instance). You might be the type who prefers to surround herself with people or not. Perhaps you want to live quietly.

3. Figure out what you don’t want.

You may feel you live too far away from your daughter or son and the grandchildren, that you will become too dependent, or that you can’t live without your community or neighborhood. If you stay in your big old house, it may need ongoing repairs or, with too many stairs, be too hard to navigate later on.

4. Know your housing options.

There are several ways to ensure you will not be isolated. One friend in her 60s plans to sell her condo and buy a house with her sister. It’ll be company, she’s decided, and by splitting expenses, they can live someplace they wouldn’t have been able to afford alone. It goes without saying that they will take care of each other as they grow older.

Some older adults are opting for cohousing. You have your own place but share communal space and some meals. There’s daily interaction with neighbors who become like extended family.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs or Life Plan Communities) — many with assisted living and skilled nursing — can be appealing, too. Not only are your medical needs taken care of, should you have them, but there are activities and caring residents and staff.

University-based retirement communities (UBRC) that are on or near college campuses and focus on lifelong learning are one type. There are more than 100 around the country. The Village movement is also popular. You stay in your home and, for an annual fee, join a neighborhood “village.” Members get discounted vetted service referrals (i.e. think dog walking, home repairs and transportation), and social opportunities as well.

5. Look around.

If there are enough people in your building or neighborhood who are at a similar age and stage, you might want to get to know one another and/or share services (caregiving, food bought in bulk, housekeeping etc.).

Are you happy with your support system? What would you like to change about it or have changed? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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