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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

Innovative support for rural caregivers

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July 4, 2016, by Pat Morden, Caregiver Exchange

The project trains volunteer peer health coaches to support caregivers Sheila Schuehlein knows what caregiving is about.

Her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2014, and eight months later suffered a stroke. The stroke exacerbated the dementia, and she was no longer able to walk. After nine months in hospital and a month at home with 24/7 care, she was eventually placed in a long-term care home. “I thought I could somehow care for her myself, but I came to realize I couldn’t,” says Schuehlein. “But I’m still a caregiver, responsible for overseeing her care.”

Schuehlein is a gerontologist, a certified health coach, and President of Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health in Seaforth, Ontario. Her experience as a caregiver helped inspire an innovative project, the Rural Women’s Health Support Initiative (RWHSI). The project trains volunteer peer health coaches to support caregivers.

Caregiving is never easy, Schuehlein says, but the rural environment creates extra challenges. “There are usually fewer services and as a result, longer wait lists. Transportation is difficult, with longer commutes and hazardous winter weather. It can be very isolating.”

The RWHSI will match caregivers with a trained volunteer who connects with them by phone. The volunteer is a listening ear and warm shoulder, a source of information about services and supports, and a coach. Says Schuehlein: “The caregiver may know exactly what she needs – say, information about respite care. Or she may be so overwhelmed she doesn’t know what she needs. Health coaching is about asking questions to find one piece of the puzzle and create an action plan around it.”

The volunteers have been trained and the program is now under way. (To contact, call 1-844-868-4455.)

In the meantime, Schuehlein has good advice for caregivers. “Remember that there are people out there who want to help you and know how difficult this is,” she says. “And know that there are lots of resources available you may not even be aware of yet.”

The project was developed in partnership with Federated Women’s Institutes of Ontario. It also received support from Women’s College Hospital, Community Foundation Grey Bruce, the Change Foundation and the University of Waterloo. Schuehlein hopes it will become a model for similar programs elsewhere.