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What’s It Like to Hold a Virtual Workshop for Caregivers?

Are you seeking fresh ideas for your caregiver support program during the pandemic? You may want to consider holding a virtual workshop for your caregivers. 

I recently created a new workshop outlining the framework for caregiver resilience—which is something all caregivers need, especially now more than ever. I was invited to present the workshop for a few different caregiver groups. In each case, this was originally planned as an in-person event, but COVID-19 turned it into a virtual one. 

Admittedly, I was concerned about how the workshop would play out in a virtual setting. In a face-to-face environment, you have the opportunity to engage with participants in a more personal and intimate way. When a participant makes a compelling comment, you can easily ask follow-up questions. In contrast, online participants are physically separated and further detached by the veil of technology that introduces a degree of anonymity to the whole experience. 

I found, however, that the virtual setting has advantages. Family caregivers who might otherwise be unable to attend a face-to-face meeting (often due to the needs of their loved one) can participate from their homes. In addition, caregivers participating in the online workshops seemed to be more willing to share their thoughts and feelings in response to questions. Perhaps the anonymity of the computer made them more forthright in sharing their struggles. 

The honesty of these comments from caregivers—often delivered via the “chat” feature of the technology platform—was strikingly relatable and illuminating for everyone present. As an example, in one workshop I asked participants what the title of their caregiving script would be. Here are a few of their answers: 

“The Juggler.” 

“The Amazing Daily Adventures of Grandma.”

“More than a Caregiver.”

“Welcome to Crazy Train.”

“Down the Rabbit Hole of Denial and Stubbornness.” 

“Up to the Challenge.”

“As the Chaos Turns.” 

By merely reading this list, can’t you just sense something about what’s underneath? I think every caregiver can probably read each one of those titles and relate in their own personal way. 

After a few experiences like these, I’ve become a proponent of virtual workshops for caregivers. While they are different from face-to-face groups, the virtual setting enables broader participation by caregivers and offers its own unique rewards in delivering an enlightening and uplifting experience. 

If you’d like to create a similar program for caregivers in your area, please let me know. I’d be delighted to work with you—from the comfort of home—to support your caregivers.

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5 Tips for Caregivers During the COVID-19 Holiday Season

caregiver holding a phone

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sings Andy Williams in his well-known Christmas song, one of my personal favorites. The holiday season usually marks a time of happiness, togetherness, faith, hope, and thankfulness. But this year things might be a little different with the threat of COVID-19 and the measures you must take to reduce the risk of transmission. If you’re a caregiver, you have a particularly daunting challenge: not only must you look out for yourself, but you must also protect your vulnerable loved one.

In addition to following public health guidelines of mask-wearing, hand washing, and social distancing, I’d like to offer five tips especially for caregivers in this unusual holiday season.

  1. Recognize that your loved one needs you now, more than ever. No matter how difficult the situation may be, this isn’t the time to step away from caregiving. Your loved one’s vulnerability is even greater in a COVID-19 world, and you are positioned to have a major impact on your loved one’s safety and wellbeing.
  2. Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t control. Caregiving regularly reminds you that you have limited control over things like your loved one’s condition, treatment, or prognosis. As if that wasn’t enough, the current COVID-19 crisis may make you feel as if life itself has spun out of your hands. Despite such uncertain circumstances, your sustained efforts to address things you can control will allow you and your loved one to lead the best lives possible at the present time.
  3. It’s still okay for you to get help with the tasks of caring. Caregivers often feel a responsibility to “go it alone” in helping a loved one. A woman I met during a podcast last week called this a form of sacrificial love. However, if you’re sacrificing so much that you’re barely hanging on, then it’s time to give yourself permission to get help. By “sharing the caring” you’ll find some welcome relief—just make sure that those who offer assistance are also doing their part to keep your loved one safe.
  4. By caring for yourself you’re better prepared to care for others. As a caregiver, you may be so focused upon the needs of your loved one that you fail to take care of yourself. If you neglect your own needs, you can experience significant physical, mental, or emotional challenges of your own. Good self-care habits will make it easier for you to stay healthy and strong for your loved one who depends on you.
  5. Interacting with your loved one during a COVID-19 holiday season may be different, so learn to adapt and step up your efforts. The public health measures to address the pandemic have contributed to unintended consequences of loneliness and social isolation for vulnerable people. If your loved one is feeling such emotional effects during the holidays, find permissible ways to brighten their day and raise their spirits. While you may not be able to show love in your preferred manner, your sustained efforts to be there will let your loved one know how much you still care.
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4 Reasons Why Caregiving is Harder in the Era of COVID-19

A caregivers holding hands

A recent survey by the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving revealed that 83% of caregivers are experiencing an increased level of stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Caregiving right now is more stressful because caregivers must worry constantly about COVID-19 infection. As if your loved one’s condition wasn’t bad enough, knowing that COVID-19 is so easily spread and can be fatal forces caregivers to take extreme precautions to protect their loved ones.

Caregiving right now is more worrisome because the measures to protect us from COVID-19 are simultaneously contributing to loneliness and social isolation. Caregivers already reported feelings of loneliness before the pandemic—but now we’re seeing how societal shutdowns can have ripple effects. Caregivers and care receivers are more isolated than ever before.

Caregiving right now is more challenging because caregivers have to do more caregiving. COVID-19 adds new care-related tasks for caregivers. As an example, you never had to worry about donning personal protective equipment (PPE), but now you have to find it, get it, and ensure that both you and your loved one properly use it—whenever you need it. COVID-19 means less respite care for many caregivers because they’re concerned that outsiders will increase their loved one’s risk of exposure to the virus.

Caregiving right now is more disquieting because of the countless other effects of COVID-19. The global pandemic has ushered in a year of uncertainty, instability, and change. The normalcy we used to know is gone, and nobody really knows when (or if) things will return to the way they were before. The virus has produced dramatic changes at all levels of society—from the personal lives of individuals to relationships among the nations. The unpredictable effects of COVID-19 across the world have elevated our sense of generalized anxiety. If you’re already worried about other things, the uncontrollable ups and downs of caregiving can be even harder to bear.

Here’s to all the caregivers who keep going amid the chaos of COVID-19. Your labor and continued perseverance are reflections of your strength of character and commitment to your loved one. Like you, I want to believe that things will get better. Until they do, I hope you find some degree of comfort in knowing that your efforts are still making a difference for your loved one.


Caring for a parent, spouse, or relative who cannot care for themselves due to age, infirmity, or illness is one of the noblest human activities. It’s also one of the most stressful, posing challenges that can be painful, confusing, frustrating, and deeply rewarding—sometimes all at once. My debut book, When Caregiving Calls, offers practical advice that can help family caregivers do a better job of coping with the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual challenges they face.

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Why Add “Questions for Reflection” in a Book about Caregiving?

When Caregiving Calls books on a table

In a review of my new book, Kirkus Reviews observed, “The book is smartly organized into 18 brief yet highly relevant chapters, each addressing an aspect of caregiving. At the close of every chapter, questions are included for reflection. Rather than attempt to create a manual, the author shares salient observations about caregiving from a very personal perspective.”

I imagine that most readers choosing a book about caregiving would be looking for a book that’s highly relevant and perhaps personal, but not necessarily one that includes questions for reflection. However, I believe that the questions for reflection are among the most distinguishing aspects of When Caregiving Calls: Guidance as You Care for a Parent, Spouse, or Aging Relative. Why did I include reflective questions after every chapter?

The answer is that I wanted to create a book that could do more than inform caregivers. I wanted to write a book that could potentially transform caregivers.

As you may know, my doctoral degree is in learning, not medicine. I’m interested in helping caregivers learn how to function better within the context of their individual care experiences. In writing this book, I consciously considered how to make it more meaningful and helpful for caregivers, so I decided to incorporate principles of transformative learning theory.

Doctor Jack Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning includes two principal parts: 1) critical reflection, and 2) participation in a dialectical discourse in order to reach a best reflective judgment. The deliberate process of writing answers to the questions in When Caregiving Calls will enable the caregiver who is reading to engage in both parts of transformative learning.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I’d like to share a few insights from Mezirow’s research and invite you to think about how they apply to family caregivers. In a study of women returning to college, Mezirow found that personal transformation often followed:

  • a disorienting dilemma;
  • self-examination with feelings of fear, anger, guilt, or shame;
  • a critical assessment of assumptions;
  • recognition that one’s discontent and the process of transformation are shared;
  • exploration of options for new roles, relationships, and action;
  • planning a course of action;
  • acquiring knowledge and skills for implementing one’s plans;
  • provisional trying of new roles;
  • building competence and self-confidence in new roles and relationships;
  • a reintegration into one’s life on the basis of conditions dictated by one’s new perspective.[1]

Family caregivers certainly experience disorienting dilemmas as they seek to provide care for a loved one. Those who most successfully transition through their new caregiving roles and realities are, in effect, passing through the steps of transformative learning outlined above.

The questions for reflection in When Caregiving Calls are designed to prompt and facilitate this transformative learning process for family caregivers.

Kirkus Reviews was right—my book is not a manual. Caregiving is extremely personal, and a “manual” that covers everything a particular caregiver would need is impossible to write. I don’t pretend to have all the answers for your uniquely personal caregiving situation. Ultimately, you will discover that you have access to your best answers. Often you just need someone to ask you the right questions.


[1] Mezirow, J. (2009). An Overview on Transformative Learning. In K. Illeris (Ed.), Contemporary Theories of Learning (pp. 90-105). New York, NY: Routledge.

Founded in 1933, Kirkus Reviews is a trusted American book review magazine. You can pre-order When Caregiving Calls: Guidance as You Care for a Parent, Spouse, or Aging Relative on Amazon.com.

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New Book Offers Help for Caregivers

I’m pleased to announce that my new book, When Caregiving Calls: Guidance as You Care for a Parent, Spouse, or Aging Relative, will be released on October 13, 2020.

An early reader told me that the book feels like an intimate conversation. She compared it to an evening curled up under a blanket, in front of the fireplace, after everyone else has gone to bed. Pulling out the book, she said, you find the reassuring voice of someone who understands your struggles and gives you the reassurance you need to face another day.

That’s exactly the book I wanted to write.

The book is especially for you, the family caregiver. I wrote it for you after more than twenty years of being a caregiver, supporting caregivers, and studying caregiving.

In eighteen easy-to-read chapters, you will explore various dimensions of the caregiving experience through a combination of stories, research, and practical advice.

Each chapter includes questions for reflection that will prompt you to ponder and record your thoughts on how the chapter’s content relates personally to you and/or your loved one.

At the conclusion of the book, you’ll be invited to review your reflections in order to identify next steps—steps that will ultimately help you improve things for your loved one and yourself.

The book is relatable, warm, insightful, and supportive.

It’s also perfectly suited for caregiver support groups. The combination of readings and questions delivers a ready-made format for meaningful group discussions.

My heart and soul have been poured into this book. I offer it to you as a friend. Please let me know what you think after you read it.


BookLife selected When Caregiving Calls as an Editor’s pick and praises the book as an “outstanding guide” and a “lifesaver” for family caregivers. Publishers Weekly also chose the book’s opening sentence to be listed in its “First Lines” update.

BookLife is a website from Publishers Weekly dedicated to raising awareness of independent authors and their works. Publishers Weekly is a prestigious news magazine focused on the book publishing business and regularly features reviews for bestsellers. You can pre-order When Caregiving Calls: Guidance as You Care for a Parent, Spouse, or Aging Relative on Amazon.com.

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Amber Gifford Joins Caregiving Kinetics

We are pleased to announce that Amber Gifford has joined Caregiving Kinetics! Amber will help us reach caregivers everywhere through her efforts in research, outreach, publicity, and marketing.

Amber is not a stranger to caregiving.Amber Gifford of Caregiving Kinetics

Born and raised in Connecticut, Amber spent most of her “first” career in senior care. She was proud to have worked for multiple Assisted Living Communities as both a Memory Care Director and Executive Director. Her greatest accomplishments included therapeutic program development, relationship cultivation, and caregiver support group facilitation.

After meeting her husband and moving down south, Amber began to remotely support businesses with a focus on the wellness of others. When Amber found out that Dr. Aaron Blight was searching for someone to assist him in the promotion of his forthcoming book on caregiving, she knew it would be a great fit. Not only was Amber impressed by Aaron’s background and drive to make a difference in the lives of so many others, but she felt her past experiences would lend well to the success of Caregiving Kinetics, too!

Amber genuinely believes in the saying “everything happens for a reason” and is excited to assist Aaron in spreading his message of hope. She currently resides in North Carolina with her husband and infant son, and their family will be growing as they are expecting a baby girl in September!

Asked for a piece of advice she’d share with caregivers today, Amber said, “Be patient with yourself. Your relationship with your loved one is growing and evolving in ways you probably didn’t plan for. If you continue to show love and put your best foot forward, then you can rest easy knowing you are doing all you can despite how it may feel in certain moments.”

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Why You Should Treat Your Caregivers Like Your Clients

caregiver on phone

Over the years, I observed dozens of schedulers filling shifts at my home care company. One of my best schedulers was a woman named Nina who had an uncanny ability to get our caregivers to commit to shifts. Nina was highly effective in staffing because she took extra time to develop relationships with both our clients and our caregivers. Nina was often inconvenienced by caregivers who would call out of shifts or talk about their personal problems with her. Despite the fact that Nina was extremely busy, she always made time for a client or caregiver who needed her.  She was unceasingly courteous and kind, and her extra “doses of “honey” (as she called them) came back to her like good karma whenever she was in a pinch and really needed a caregiver’s help.

Not all of my schedulers were as kind to our caregivers. One day I watched in horror as my scheduler slammed the phone down after getting a caregiver call-off.  She started ranting about yet another caregiver calling out of a shift. Her colleague responded by asking, “Why do all of them do that?!?”

I knew we had a problem when I heard this exchange. Based on the actions of a few caregivers, my schedulers were generalizing about all caregivers.

 

The Risk of Negative Narratives in Scheduling

Scheduling can be a stressful and frustrating job because of the challenges filling shifts and handling last-minute call offs, but we know that most caregivers want to do a good job. Of course there are a few exceptions, and you deal with those. But when the narrative in the scheduling department descends into a constant cycle of cynicism and complaining about how caregivers are always causing problems, that perception permeates the office culture.

Your schedulers cannot continue to talk among themselves about how “worthless” caregivers are without allowing such a perception to unintentionally seep into direct dialogue with caregivers. Just like most human beings, caregivers will know if you don’t respect them. Where respect is not given, it is not reciprocated. When there’s a lack of respect between caregivers and schedulers, the challenges in staffing multiply because caregivers and schedulers alike are less likely to be considerate of one another’s needs.

As caregivers and schedulers descend into a tug-o-war, your clients suffer through the ensuing reduction in service quality. Clients will only tolerate so many scheduling mishaps before they start looking elsewhere for service.

 

Treating Caregivers Like Clients

One of the most distinguishing aspects of home care is that every visit to a client is actually a double-sided transaction. What’s a double-sided transaction? It’s a transaction that requires two “sales” in order to deliver a single service.

In home care, not only do you have to “sell” the service to the client, but you also have to “sell” the visit to the caregiver. It’s easy to see the importance of “selling” to your client, but the necessity of “selling” the visit to your caregiver may not be as obvious. Why can’t you just tell the caregiver when and where to go?

If your team thinks caregivers should simply be told where to go and just do what they’re told, nothing else, it’s critical to realize that such an approach isn’t always realistic in home care. Caregivers are humans with complex lives and many demands outside of work. The variability of available work in home care means that caregivers cannot count on predictable schedules. Work only becomes available when a client has a need, wherever that client may live. Caregivers must adjust their personal lives to accommodate constantly evolving work requests, and sometimes they just can’t do it.

Belittling, scolding, insulting, and complaining about caregivers who can’t work a shift does nothing to fill that hole on the schedule. In fact, being rude is how you drive caregivers away. Home Care Pulse recently reported that the biggest cause of the industry’s high rates of caregiver turnover is poor communication with the office.

You’d never think of being rude to a client. Given the nature of home care’s double-sided transactions, you shouldn’t be rude to a caregiver either.

If you teach your staff to treat your caregivers like clients, you will listen to their needs and make efforts to accommodate them. Caregiver job satisfaction will increase. Turnover will decrease.  And your caregivers may be more inclined to respond to your karma in a positive way when you’re desperately seeking to fill that last minute shift.

That’s Nina’s secret: over time, the honey is always more effective than the vinegar.

During his career, Dr. Aaron Blight has held leadership positions as a caregiving provider, policymaker, and researcher. Learn more about his caregiving journey here

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Caregiving: A Metaphor for National Healing

Woman walking with an elder

Today a friend told me that this year has been like 1918, 1929, and 1968 all rolled into one.

Marked by a pandemic, economic instability, violence, and demonstrations, 2020 has been a year unlike any I’ve seen in my lifetime.

People everywhere are hurting. It’s as if our entire nation is mourning.

As I contemplate what must be done, I can’t help but consider how caregiving exemplifies the healing that our society obviously needs.

In beholding the care receiver, the caregiver looks beyond scales of social identity to see a human being.

The caregiver meets the care receiver as he or she is. At that intersection of lives, a new type of relationship begins. It is a relationship of caring, giving, and receiving.

Recognizing the human above the circumstances, the caregiver engages in a series of personalized actions that demonstrate understanding, kindness, and genuine concern for the care receiver. Fully exposed, the care receiver welcomes the caregiver, and if possible, manages to find ways to reciprocate kindness. Occasionally, in poetic moments of tenderness, the care receiver can actually become the one who gives care.

As conditions change, the caregiver and care receiver continue to be present for each other. Aware of one another’s obvious imperfections, the caregiver and care receiver develop a mutual acceptance and, at times, admiration for each other. Their relationship is rooted in human vulnerability, compassion, and trust.

The events of this year have amply shown our human vulnerability. As a society, we can commit ourselves to caring, giving, and receiving across divisions of race, gender, politics, age, COVID-19 status, and so on, because we are all human beings. If we extend ourselves in the spirit of caregiving, today’s challenges will lead us to a greater sense of compassion and trust in one another.

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Aaron Blight, Ed.D., Named Member of Well Spouse® Honorary Board

Dr. Aaron Blight

Aaron Blight, Ed.D., founder of global consulting firm Caregiving Kinetics, has been named a member of Well Spouse Association’s Honorary Board. International speaker, writer, and adjunct professor at Shenandoah University, Dr. Blight formerly served as a national healthcare policy leader at the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Bob Mastrogiovanni, Well Spouse Association President, expressed his positive outlook on Dr. Blight joining the honorary board. “His vast experience as a CMS leader and home care agency owner make him uniquely qualified to understand the plight of our caregiving spouses and partners. His background and education give him the ability to be a commentator who can analyze the caregiving experience academically and do it with the empathy of one who has been there. Caregiving for an ill spouse or partner has special challenges because of the intimate nature of the spousal relationship and he understands those relationships better than anyone. We look to the future with optimism because our relationship with Dr. Aaron Blight. “

Well Spouse® Association is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) membership organization that advocates for and addresses the needs of individuals caring for a chronically ill and/or disabled spouse/partner. The organization advocates on behalf of spousal caregivers, and promotes initiatives to help caregiving spouses cope with the emotional and financial stresses associated with chronic illness and/or disability. Well Spouse also coordinates a national network of support for caregiving partners, including a calendar of peer-to-peer support groups, a mentor program, and an online forum on which spousal caregivers can share coping skills and encouragement.

“After so many years developing healthcare policy, I thought I knew something about caregiving,” said Dr. Blight. “But it wasn’t until my wife’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor that I really began to understand the scope and significance of caregiving on a personal level. The experience was so profound that it prompted me to redirect my career path in hopes of using that knowledge to better serve people facing the same challenges as Jessica and I had.”

“Through Caregiving Kinetics, I’ve also had the opportunity to learn more about the caregiving experience from a spouse’s point of view,” continued Dr. Blight. “Caring for a partner who is going through a steady cognitive or physical decline is a unique challenge, and associations like Well Spouse are invaluable to the caregiving spouse.” Dr. Blight discusses the concerns of spousal caregivers in his forthcoming book to be released later this year.

As a member of Well Spouse’s Honorary Board, Dr. Blight will help promote the association’s resources and programs among spousal caregivers and other members of the caregiving community.

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Review of The Power of Disability: 10 Lessons for Surviving, Thriving, and Changing the World by Al Etmanski

The Power of Disability Book

My friend and colleague Donna Thomson recently introduced me to Al Etmanski, the author of The Power of Disability: 10 Lessons for Surviving, Thriving, and Changing the World, published earlier this year.

I decided to read this book because my caregiving-related career has allowed me to get to know many people with disabilities on a personal level. I have observed that despite progress over the last 30 years, people with disabilities continue to live in a society where they can be pricked by the senseless barbs of prejudice.

Here’s my “official” review of the book:

“Al Etmanski has authored an inspiring book – a compilation of stories about people with disabilities who have made significant contributions to the world. I enjoyed reading about familiar people, such as Stevie Wonder and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as well as others who were new to me. Collectively, the people profiled in these pages demonstrate how a challenge can develop character and how limitations can lead to accomplishment. The resulting “lessons” are applicable to every one of us, for they teach us about our shared humanity, regardless of any perceived differences.”

A caregiver’s focus is on supporting a person with limitations, not defining a person by limitations. If you’re a naturally instinctive caregiver, you will appreciate this book.

Al Etmanski is an experienced community organizer, social entrepreneur, and author. Learn more about Al, The Power of Disability, and his other books on his website (https://aletmanski.com/). Additionally, you can purchase this book on Amazon.

 

Dr. Aaron Blight

Five things worth knowing about empathy - The Washington Post washingtonpost.com/health/emp… via @googlenews