P.S. I Understand: Caregiver Peer Support
My mom was a long distance caregiver for my grandmother, who was diagnosed with dementia. My aunt was her primary caregiver. It was a situation that was difficult for everyone in my family. My aunt was overwhelmed and exhausted, and my mom wanted to do whatever she could from a distance. They both could have used some extra support from someone who understood just what they were going through.
I can imagine my mom picking up the phone to talk with someone who had been a long distance caregiver and describing what it was like to be in this position. I can imagine a simple but reassuring “uh-huh” coming from the other person, and my mom feeling heard and understood.
This is the kind of support that both my mom and my aunt would have loved. I know there is a need for professionals who can provide support and assistance, but when I’m having a hard day, I really just want to talk to a friend, someone who knows me and just gets it.
There are very few formal caregiver peer support programs anywhere in the nation. The Veterans Administration has a Peer Mentoring program that matches caregivers of veterans across the country, and there are several support groups for people who are currently caregiving in the Twin Cities metro area. However, there really isn’t a way for people who have gone through the caregiving experience to connect with other caregivers.
How can we keep caregivers connected to the rich and supportive caregiving community after their caregiving journey comes to an end? After talking with some current caregivers at Wilder and professionals in the Twin Cities, the idea for P.S. (Peer Support) I Understand was born.
By matching current caregivers with former caregivers, P.S. I Understand supports current caregivers experiencing the daily challenges and victories of caregiving and creates a community that honors the experiences of former caregivers.
That’s what drew me to work on P.S. I Understand. I really appreciate the recognition that there is something special and unique about being a caregiver. As understanding and empathetic as I may be, I haven’t been a caregiver yet. The support that one caregiver can offer another is so rich and valuable. It’s exciting to be part of a project that places so much value on the caregiving experience.
If you would like to volunteer for the P.S. I Understand program, please see our current volunteer opportunities.
Parichay Rudina is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work. After teaching high school English in New York City’s public school system for ten years, she returned to her native Minnesota in 2012. As a social work intern, she has worked with caregivers in Washington County and is currently an intern at Amherst H. Wilder Foundation working on P.S. I Understand.