A Can Do Attitude: Family Caregivers Value Volunteer Support

colorful flower garden

colorful flower gardenNovember is National Family Caregiver month — a time to recognize and honor unpaid family caregivers. Full Life is dedicated to the independence and well-being of older adults and adults with disabilities, including respite for caregivers. Our Care Teams program, funded by the King County Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy, is one example of this mission, now coming up on its two-year anniversary of helping Caregivers and the loved ones they support.

The program has been beneficial for Caregivers and volunteers alike. One often asked question — what do volunteers actually do as part of a Care Team? The answer is they provide non-medical respite for the Caregiver and there are as many ways of doing that as you can imagine. For example: helping to organize their cookbooks so that they can easily find the ones on baking, various jobs around the yard that often include the Care Recipient, doing puzzles or an art project, just chatting or walking the dog. Sometimes there are outings to places like the Zoo, Chihuly Garden and Glass, even the Aquarium!

The most asked question, what do Caregivers consider respite? Taking a nap, uninterrupted time to pay bills, going to the hair salon, meeting with their book club, seeing friends while the Care Recipient is meaningfully occupied. The activities of the volunteers and the requests of the Caregivers are different in each situation, but one commonality stands out – building community and creating connections.

Chanel & Linda

Volunteer Chanel Li shares her account of an afternoon with Caregiver Linda: “I went over to help Linda tidy up the backyard in preparation for a small get-together between her husband Ben and his friends. When I arrived, I was greeted by their new puppy, Tonka, who was so energetic and immediately came over to me.”  As she worked on designated projects in the yard, the pup stayed close by her side. Soon, Linda and Chanel found themselves laughing together over Linda’s story of being stuck in the airport with Tonka when she picked him up.   “I thought this was a special moment between Linda and me because we connected over our love for dogs.” Chanel recalled, “It was such a fun visit, and so rewarding because I knew helping her out with the yard would lighten up her load a little bit. She is often so busy with appointments, physical therapy, caring for a new puppy, and home maintenance, I’m so happy whenever I can help her out a little.”

A 2020 study on Caregiving in the US* found that 1 in 6 Americans are caring for an adult age 50 or older, 89% of those care for a relative. Burnout is a common challenge of caregiving, according to the American Heart Association, “Caregiver burnout is caused by long-term stress that can affect physical, emotional and mental well-being.” Over time this overwhelm can negatively affect self-care and the way we care for our loved ones. The value of respite is evident as it benefits the well-being of both the caregiver and their loved one. Yet it can be difficult for caregivers to reach out.  

Caregivers often don’t know how to ask for help….I’m still learning

Linda shares that she’s been delighted by the process of getting to know her Care Team volunteers. “The notification that I was chosen to receive the care came at a time when I was terribly stressed handling everything, and I was feeling very physically and emotionally depleted.”

A caregiver since age 12, as an adult, Linda moved her mother to Seattle and cared for her until her death. “I’ve never known anything but doing it all myself. I’m not unique. Caregivers often don’t know how to ask for help. To have my care team there to help is such a new experience, and I’m still learning to ask.”

Linda recognizes the role the Care Team can play in supporting her to sustain her caregiving role. “The value of this program cannot be denied. Caregivers DO need help… particularly if family is not near or able. I love the ‘can-do‘ attitude that guides me gently into believing that I really CAN do more of this, despite my age, as long as I will accept help. I am very grateful.”

See yourself in this picture?

If you are interested in a volunteer opportunity that will make an impactful difference in the life of an unpaid family caregiver, learn more at: https://fulllifecare.org/services/care-teams/care-teams-volunteers/  If you’re a caregiver who would like a volunteer Care Team for emotional and practical support, visit https://fulllifecare.org/services/care-teams/care-teams-caregiver-participants/