This article was written by Mary Gill, an Area Director for Caregiver Homes.
When someone decides to become a full-time caregiver, there are many new challenges and emotional considerations, especially when the caregiver is providing support to a family member. There are changes to the family dynamic, which is combined with medical diagnoses and disease progression that are often foreign to the caregiver. Caregivers enter into a situation where they are now fulfilling a different role in their loved one's life, and the experience can feel daunting. Care teams offer support, advice, and training, but sometimes in addition to this team, caregivers could really benefit from a mentor.
A caregiver mentor can be an individual going through or previously experienced a similar caregiving journey who is willing to share their experiences and insights. Other caregivers can understand the emotional impact of this commitment. Having a caregiver mentor relationship provides the opportunity to be validated in your fears, concerns, thoughts and actions by someone going through the same thing you are.
Making and Fostering Mentor Relationships
Caregivers looking for a mentor relationship can join a caregiver support group, or access services through their local elder services or their local COAs. If caregivers are part of an organized support program already, they can talk to their service provider and request connections to other individuals with similar concerns or situations.
Caregiver Homes hosts a Caregiver Support Group, and I know that valuable connections have been made. Caregivers from Caregiver Homes as well as others from the community attend this group and have shared contact information so they can talk to each other. One person that my team supports has been a caregiver to his wife, his mother, and his aunt. For the majority of this gentleman's life, he has been a caregiver in some capacity. He has always been very focused on his loved ones' care to the degree that he had isolated himself. When I met him three years ago, he had no other people in his life besides the aunt he cared for. The neighbor across the street would drop by once in a while, but besides that, he really had no one. This became evident in the conversations he had with his care team. There had been times when he hadn't spoken to another person besides his aunt in weeks.
Over a period of a year and a half, we finally convinced him to attend a caregiver event. We introduced him to three outgoing, supportive caregivers who are in similar situations to him. We had them sit at a table together. By the end of this event, they had all exchanged phone numbers, and they had made plans to get together after the event. He began to call them and found a new, supportive outlet. It made the biggest difference in his life and even in his aunt's life because she was no longer his only interaction.
The Benefits to the Mentee and Mentor
This relationship provides the mentee with an experienced sounding board, an outlet to vent, and a resource to learn caregiving insights. There are benefits to the mentor as well. They get to utilize the knowledge and expertise that they have developed. Many caregivers I know are humble. When care teams acknowledge specific ways caregivers have improved their loved one's care or quality of life, caregivers often say, "This is just what I do." But when somebody else is in need of help or advice, it can really build their self-confidence to be able to share suggestions that have worked for them.
Caregiver Homes has created its own caregiver mentoring program which connects experienced caregivers with new individuals joining the program who are just beginning this caregiving journey. We look for opportunities to facilitate mentoring among caregivers. During the first month, both caregivers regularly share knowledge of responsibilities, and many individuals stay in touch after this onboarding period is over. When a caregiver is told they would make a great caregiver, it is a huge compliment and recognition of the work they are doing. Encourage caregivers to create new relationships with people they can connect to and share with because the benefits to caregiver mentorship relationships are invaluable.