I recently had the pleasure to speak with Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers. During our interview Sherri talked to us about the Caregiving Club, the challenges many caregivers face, and how we as health professionals can go about helping this growing segment of the population.
Sherri, can you please tell us a little bit about the Caregiving Club, and why you decided to start it?
I spent the last 10 years in healthcare, and worked with different organizations seeing the need for caregivers to come together and have one voice. Caregiving is a role that most of us will have to play at one point in our lives, and yet, it isn’t something we would typically self-identify as. I speak to so many CG who say, “Oh, I’m not a caregiver, I’m just a daughter who loves her mother.”
I think former first lady Rosalynn Carter said it best when she said, “you either have been a caregiver, are a caregiver, will be a caregiver, or someone will be caring for you.” When you look at it this way, it’s something that all of us will be touched by at one point in our lives.
Caregivers provide 80% of long term care in this country, they are not professionals, and are not paid. According to an AARP study they represent over $450 billion of value of their care. We need to pay attention to that as a society, and provide them with support.
The Caregiving Club is dedicated to two caregiving areas, consulting and arming caregivers with knowledge.
In terms of consulting, we work with businesses both large and small. We know that 73% of all caregivers are working and companies are beginning to look at this population, trying to understand who caregivers are and what they need to help them. We consult with those companies to help them understand what those needs are.
We are also very dedicated to providing content. Right now a tipping point is happening in our society with boomers aging, which in turn is creating more and more caregivers. We felt we needed to elevate the conversation and start a dedicated dialogue, providing solutions and tips for those caregivers. We reach about 8 million boomers a month via blogs for different websites including the Alzheimer’s Association, Third Age, Vibrant Nation, Next Avenue and several others. The blogs become a connection point for different topics and points for discussion for caregivers and their families.
The Caregiving Club has also collaborated with The Monday Campaigns. The non-profit is dedicated to educational campaigns that use Mondays as a milestone to start a new regime, whether new nutrition or fitness plan etc. When I first met with them, they were interested in creating a caregiver campaign, so we created Caregiving Club’s Me Time Monday videos and tips in support of the Caregiver’s Monday campaign. We do several things including informative videos, tips on health and wellness, financial health, and technology use to help caregivers. All of these are available on our website and our YouTube channel.
Additionally we created a TV show called, “Handle with Care” which piloted last year, showcasing different caregiving stories. We bring in a team of experts to help the caregivers deal with the challenges they are facing. We thought the TV show was a great way to reach caregivers, because as the Nielson ratings show us, boomers watch 5-6 hours of TV, and we wanted to provide them helpful tips they are looking for.
Many of SurroundHealth’s members work directly with patients, many of whom have caregivers. What can you tell them about the struggles and challenges that you see caregivers experiencing most often?
I know SurroundHealth members are very much in tune with what I’m about to say, but we see a lot of issues around the sense of isolation. I hear caregivers say over and over, “I just feel so all alone. I feel like I don’t know where to turn for help, and I don’t know how to ask for help.” There is this sense of isolation they experience which can add to increased stress levels and even depression. Often that’s where we start to see the decline in the caregiver’s health.
Another issue we see quite often is around caregivers losing themselves. Caregivers tend to neglect their own health and wellness needs, and this is particularly a dilemma for the sandwich generation caregivers, who still have children at home but might also have an older parent who they are taking care of. They are literally sandwiched in between these responsibilities all while trying to maintain their own family and work responsibilities. It’s what I call the 3 C’s; the children, having a career, and all of a sudden having to care for a parent. On top of that, where can they find time for themselves? Caregivers know they have to, but how.
The third challenge is finding resources. There are so many good tools and support mechanisms out there, but caregivers don’t have the time to search for them, especially if they are working. If health professionals can become these expert guides by educating themselves on the resources and support that are available for caregivers, this would be a tremendous help for this population.
Studies conducted by the National Alliance on Caregiving several years ago on caregiver health risks, showed that 91% of caregivers are feeling depressed over the situation, so how can we help manage their depression, what are some things that will help uplift them and help them feel less overwhelmed? How do we prevent them from becoming as illn as the person they are caring? Imagine the impact on our entire healthcare system, if we have caregivers who are as ill as those they are caring for. That is going collapse our healthcare system, so as health professionals we have to find ways we can support them.
Are there any signs that the health professionals can look for when working with patients, to see whether the caregiver isn’t doing well or is overwhelmed?
There are actually a couple of tools out there that health professionals can use. One is from the American Medical Association, the other from the Alzheimer’s Association, and while may be specific to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it can still be helpful to anyone, and the tool is called the Caregiver’s Self-Assessment. It’s a series of questions the caregiver answers and then gives back to a health professional to assess. Those tools are really helpful and I would definitely recommend them.
What role if any does technology and social media play in helping caregivers?
Well the wonderful world of the digital age, many companies both large and small are focusing on helping caregivers, understanding aging of America and keeping people connected. For example, Intel and GE came together to create a division now called Care Innovations, focused on products around remote monitoring. That’s helping the whole healthcare system because now doctors can start making virtual visits, deliver videos, and that information is automatically transmitted to the healthcare team, and that to me is a great solution for many families.
We know caregivers in general are twice as likely to develop chronic illness as a result of prolonged stress associated with caring for a loved one. Since isolation is such a problem, finding support is critical, and there are many online programs and tools that can help with that. Whether it’s from the Alzheimer’s Association, the Wounded Warrior Project if you’re a caregiver of a veteran, or whether it’s an online community like Lotsa Helping Hands. That’s a free calendar where caregivers can post what they need help with and invite family and friends to view it and sign up for tasks. Technology and social media help to build a “virtual village” of a support community.
Caregivers are also often forced to be what we call para-professionals. In some cases they have to take on nursing skills and need to know things like how to put a blood pressure cuff on correctly. Social media tools like You Tube can help with things like that immensely, with the how-to videos.
Another example of technology that can help ease the sense of isolation for both the senior population and the caregiver, is the Telikin device. It was created for older Americans who may not be as tech savvy, but it’s a touch screen device that automatically goes to Skype, Facebook or other social media tools and allows for quick and easy connection with family members and friends.
In the near future there is a wide range of technology coming our way that will help with our loved ones, giving a piece of mind and sense of security to our caregivers.
Any last comments to health professionals reading this blog?
It’s really just about understanding the caregiver and their role as a member of the healthcare team. They are the person who influences the decisions, and helps to care for their loved one. As we all know when someone is diagnosed with a condition, it is not just that person who is affected, it is the entire family and particularly the caregiver. Be there to support them.