If you have ever been in the role of caregiver to a sick family member, whether for a short period of time or for a long drawn out decline, you know it takes a huge toll on your own life and that of your family. Caregiving can be an all-consuming task depending on the level of intervention needed. Many times it forces the caregiver to completely rearrange their lives, taking unpaid leave from work, turning down promotions, stepping away from social engagements, spiritual interactions and even exercise to concentrate fully on caring for their family member.
For many caregivers, they have no other options, either because of their sense of “doing what’s right” or because financially they cannot afford paid caregiving. Statistics show forty-two percent of U.S. workers have provided care for an aging relative or friend in the past five years.1 One of the problems resulting for caregivers is they can quickly become isolated in this role, neglecting themselves, many times to the point of significant illnesses of their own. Because caregiving can be so all-consuming, it also makes it difficult for the caregiver to stop and do research on available community resources to assist them. They are operating in essentials-only mode. In lower income neighborhoods, there may also be a misconception that the resources may be out of reach financially as well.
The AARP Foundation is piloting a new program called Connecting Caregivers to Community (CC2C). This program allows volunteers to be trained and then paired with caregivers to be a resource as they walk the journey of caring for a sick family member. The goal of the program is to match a buddy to a caregiver, giving them someone who is there when they need to talk or someone who understands the community resources that are available to assist the caregiver. The goal is to reduce the isolation caregivers feel and provide them with a sympathetic ear in their time of need.
For the volunteer buddies, training is offered to assist them, as well as check-in calls to support their efforts. Buddies are asked to be respectful of the caregiver’s privacy and are under no minimum service expectations when volunteering in this capacity. The individuals who become buddies to caregivers are giving of themselves and their time to help a neighbor in need. This program is currently being piloted in Raleigh, Chicago, Humble, TX and Washington D.C. and is expected to be expanded to other areas in the future. This may be a good first step in the future of “neighbor helping neighbor.”
If you know someone who is caring for a sick family member, this program may be a resource to them as it is rolled out. In the meantime, remember those in your neighborhoods who are caring for a loved one and understand the all-consuming nature of the task they are undertaking. If you have the opportunity, reach out to them in small but meaningful ways to let them know they are not alone in their struggles.
1 K. Aumann, E. Galinsky, K. Sakai, M. Brown, and J. T. Bond, The Elder Care Study: Everyday Realities and Wishes for Change (New York, NY: Families and Work Institute, October 2010).