"Where can I find support?"

One of the most commonly asked caregiver questions is also one of the hardest to answer—in part because the response will vary from person to person.

A few lucky individuals can instantly rattle off the names of the men and women in their lives who are waiting in the wings; poised to help them whenever called upon. However, many caregivers find themselves in the opposite position; desperately seeking someone to lend them the proverbial helping hand or sympathetic shoulder.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation for caregivers by Kenneth Doka, Ph.D., a professor of gerontology at the College of New Rochelle, who shared many strategies for managing caregiver stress. (Discover: 10 Signs of Caregiver Stress)

Strategies to Help You Identify Your Support Network

  • Make a list
    Write down the names of the people you interact with on a regular basis. Anyone you could look to for support should go on this list, as well as those who you may not initially consider to be a source of help. (Remember, this is a brainstorming session. Resist the urge to jump in feet-first and strategize or over-analyze. Just dump all of your ideas on to the page.)
  • Categorize
    Once you've compiled your list of names, it's time to categorize each person into one of four groups based on their main strength. The four groups are: Doer, Listener, Respite provider and Critic.
    • Doer: Put a D next to the names of the individuals who are the "doers" in your life. These are the people best-suited to help with day-to-day tasks, such as bringing over a casserole if you become so swamped that you don't have time to make dinner, or coming over one day to lend an extra pair of hands to help clean the house.
    • Listener: Put an L next to the good listeners on your list; those people who you can call and invite out for a cup of coffee just to vent, knowing they will listen and not overshadow the conversation with their own woes.
    • Respite provider: An R goes next to those individuals who could potentially be sources of respite for you. These are the people who will come over and take you out to dinner, or a movie and discuss any topic, except caregiving. Their talent is in helping you re-connect with the other aspects of your life and personality.
    • Critic: Finally, a C goes next to the names of those people in your life who are destructive and critical; the negative Nancy's, the complainers and those who drain you of your energy and happiness.
  • Make a plan
    Use your newly-sorted list to formulate an action plan. How you can utilize these various resources to help you cope with the task of taking care of your loved one?

Each caregiver's list will be different. You may find yourself staring at a depressingly-large amount of C's and very few R's and H's.

The goal of this exercise is to identify your ready-made resources and help highlight the gaps in your support network that need to be filled.

By pinpointing and playing to the strengths of your friends, family and acquaintances, you can make sure you get the help you need from the people who are best-suited to each particular task. You wouldn't want to ask a Helper to do the job of a Listener; it would be uncomfortable for them and not as useful to you.

Of course, this simple technique won't miraculously provide you with all the help you need to take on the colossal task of caring for a loved one.

With that in mind, here some other ways you can find support and respite while taking care of your loved one: