Even though often living lives of quiet desperation, caregivers are ordinarily reluctant to ask for help. They have probably even turned away a polite offer by a neighbor or someone from the church. We are hard pressed to confess need and accept dependence. Maybe the caregiver has been burned by a family member who questioned their judgements.

Nonetheless, every single caregiver needs to build a network of support. This may include hiring temporary help from an agency to enjoy some well-deserved respite. It usually begins with accepting a dinner gifted from your church on a day of the week. It expands when someone goes for a walk with your person in the neighborhood. You’re really cooking when you let someone do your laundry for you. We caregivers need to think out a better way to ask for help, so it is not random, but a collaborative plan of action that improves the overall care of our person and lessens our stress.

This begins with clearly identifying your needs. What are the opportunities in your patterns of care that others easily can plug into? I’ve created a volunteer handbook that not only names the activities, but suggests the best times to do them, and a couple of notes describing the best path to pursue. For instance, I was asked by a friend if they could come over and spend time with my dad who had beginning Alzheimer’s. When they told me they had early afternoons on Tuesdays I was happy as a clam. I asked them if they could play poker with my dad at the kitchen table! They said, yes, and dad had companionship and fun and I an extra hour off.

Plus, when you ask you need to be realistic about what it is people can do. My mom, whom I now care for, loves getting cards and letters from the grandkids, but frankly cards and letters are not the thing for this e-generation. Nor can I expect my brother who lives 900 miles away to slip down for the weekend to come and give me some time off. We only build in our own stress when we ask the impossible. There are ways everyone can participate, we just need to be unafraid to be creative and ask with respect.

Caregivers also need to provide helpers brief recipe cards, bulleted with suggestions on how to successfully spend time with our person. This may be the first time they’ve ever been with someone with dementia, and you want it to be a positive experience for both parties. When folks take my mom shopping, I remind them she is deaf and blind on the left side, and that cuts out a lot of problems.

There is an art and a science to asking for help in such a way that you are building a collaborative network of help, as well as a network you can count on. You will remain the primary caregiver, but you and your person need the socialization and refreshment that company can provide. In Savvy Caregiver Training we teach these skills in the 6th class in the series. We have handouts to help you ease into this process. Savvy Caregiver Training is free. Trainings are scheduled throughout North Central Florida. Please consider joining us in this very special caregiver training. To find out dates and places trainings are scheduled call Tom Rinkoski at (352) 692-5226 or e-mail him at rinkoskit@agingresources.org.


By Tom Rinkoski