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Family caregivers tend to have a lot on their plates, and when a person is busy 24/7, a few things tend to fall by the wayside. One of these factors is often outside relationships. People get into situations where they may not have the time to call that friend as often as they used to or to go on a “date” with their spouses. Keeping relationships strong and healthy is important for those in the caregiving game.

Relationships add support

Sometimes it’s important to use those relationships as a support network, as Daniela Strucelj learned when her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. As she says in this article, “I thought I was strong, I thought I could handle anything. I couldn’t… You have to reach out to friends, to professional people, to neighbors.”

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Even beyond the direct support that friends and relatives can supply, maintaining strong relationships is important because every person needs time away from his or her caregiving tasks and duties. One may need some time to be alone or to connect with people beyond the loved one for whom they are providing support.

Caregiving can have an impact on relationships

According to a 2009 report by the National Alliance for Caregiving, “half of caregivers (53%) say that their caregiving takes time away from friends and other family members. Those who have sacrificed this time with family and friends are far more likely to feel high emotional stress (47%) than are those who have been able to maintain the time they spend with family and friends (14%).”

Take steps to stay in touch

Most people work very hard to build strong relationships in their lives; it’s therefore essential that caregivers take steps to ensure that these relationships don’t deteriorate. Of course, relationships are not a one-way street: a person’s friend and relatives will reach out and try to maintain contact. Still, the caregiver may have to make an extra effort to find the time to return the contact efforts.

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  • Make it clear that you are interested. When you begin your caregiving role, email or write friends and relatives and let them know that you are embarking on a new phase that may make contact difficult. Explain that you value each and every one of them and want to stay in touch. Ask them to understand if you are not always able to reply quickly. Emphasize that you do not want them to get frustrated and stop trying to reach out.
  • Use the internet. Nothing beats face-to-face contact with a person, and phone calls are extremely important as well. Since these are not always possible options, use the internet, whether it’s email, Skype or social media outlets. The benefit, of course, is that you can use these at the time that works best for you.
  • Set aside time for relationships. Even with everything else going on, it’s important to set aside solid blocks of time when you will meet or talk with other people. Whether this is setting a definite “date night” with your significant other or a regular monthly get-together with your best friend, it’s crucial that you designate certain times for relationship maintenance – and stick to that schedule! caregiver-relationships* Multi-task. Ideally, you want to be able to concentrate solely on your friend or family member when communicating with them, but sometimes this isn’t always possible. If that’s the case, combine your tasks. Call your best friend for a chat while preparing dinner. Invite your son to come along with you while you take Grandfather to the doctor. Ask your cousin to join you as your go grocery shopping. caregiver-relationships* Remember special or significant days. Even if you are too busy to stay in touch with your friends at the level you would like, make a point of noting important dates on calendars or planners. Then make sure you acknowledge these dates in some way: a card, a phone call or an email. Anything that lets the other person know that, even though you can’t be with them, you are thinking of them.
  • Communicate. When you DO get to be with or talk to someone, do everything you can to be “in the moment” and really communicate. That doesn’t mean you have to have a deep, meaningful conversation (although if that happens naturally, that’s great); but do make sure you are able to connect with them, rather than spending all of your time half-listening while your mind worries about whether you forgot to do something before you left.

Many family caregivers can benefit from outside help. Taking advantage of HomeHero’s expertly trained staff can provide the peace of mind that a caregiver needs to seek out old friends and keep those relationships strong.

Do you have special tips to add to our list? Send us your thoughts on Twitter @HomeHero or share a comment of Facebook!

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