Caregivers Need Supportive Social Networks


When my husband first received his cancer diagnosis, we played an unseemly game of predicting who would stay with us and who would be quick to run in the other direction. We were surprisingly wrong on many accounts. Plenty of other caregivers I’ve spoken to have had the same experience.

There are friendships that last a lifetime and others that are a product of a place and time and are more transient in nature. Some relationships are based on companionship and similar interests and activities, others reflect common values, life experiences and personalities. All are good, but a major crisis will naturally separate out which individuals can be counted on during difficult times.

Relationships are the glue that holds our life together

My closest friend became a caregiver for her husband roughly a year before my own caregiving saga began. There are some things are hard to grasp unless you’ve lived the experience. She was the one person I could share my deepest, most honest feelings with, and I always knew she would get it. Unfortunately, our caregiving duties left us little time to provide much in the way of tactical help to each other. We didn’t get to see each other often, but we both knew there was always someone we could turn to for emotional support.

Another friend I met several years after my husband became ill wasn’t comfortable with the emotional aspects of disability and loss, but he was always willing to do a small handyman job or provide some other “boots on the ground” type of help. I think his discomfort was a good thing since it encouraged me to have other topics to share with him and take some respite time away from the worries and responsibilities of caregiving.

Connecting with others provides many benefits

Social isolation is a common complaint amongst caregivers and it is a serious issue. It can change your brain for the worse and cause negative lifestyle choices and a decline in health.

Hopefully you were able to invest time and effort in your social network before illness or aging took a toll. If not, it’s not too late. I encourage you to find the time and make the effort to connect with friends that fit with your current life circumstances. If you can’t get away to meet with friends, invite them to visit you. Your brain and body will thank you, and you’re likely to be a better caregiver when your own needs are met.

Find friends through your needs and interests

I think making new friends is easiest if you first identify some things you would like to do to enrich your life. Exercise is a great way to deal with stress and ensure you can survive the caregiving experience in your own right. Can you find a workout buddy or go to a gym or recreation center where you can meet new people? Even if you can make time to work out outside the home only once or twice a week, you might still meet someone who will provide friendship and support.

Is there a hobby you can pursue in a group setting? A creative outlet can reenergize you and give you a break from the same old cares and worries. Research options in your area and make time to attend as regularly as your schedule allows. There are meetup groups in most areas for almost every interest one can imagine. These are easy to attend on an irregular basis while still engaging with the group members and getting to know them over time. Support groups can also be a good option for finding friends who understand your challenges and who may also have new ideas for solutions or work arounds.

Don’t forget to provide for your spiritual needs while connecting with others as well. Maybe a hike with a friend in a nature area will refill your heart, or maybe you prefer attending church services, but don’t overlook this important aspect of your health and well-being.

Helping others will help you, too

While caregiving may monopolize your life, don’t forget that the best way to have a friend is to be a friend. Your resources are already spread thin, so you may not be able to commit much to assisting others, but there are plenty of non-material ways to help and show you care. Simply listening to a friend’s problems may help both of you get to a better place.

Sandy Morris was married for 32 years and was her disabled husband's caregiver for the last 15 years of their marriage. Working in the senior services sector for the last three years, her experiences on both sides of the caregiver equation allow her to provide valuable information on everything from VA benefits to common caregiver challenges.

War Veterans Association of Colorado

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