OPINION: Caregiving Takes a Village—and Sometimes, a Mentor

Credit: Duet AZ

By Janelle Tapphorn

March 14, 2024

Eileen needed a reality check. 

A retired special education teacher in the Mesa school district for 30 years, Eileen thought she was well equipped to manage and care for her husband, Jon Salic, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2009. Jon is a retired veteran who completed two tours in Vietnam and had been exposed to large amounts of Agent Orange.

“He told me that he had noticed that it [the jungle] was lush and green,” Eileen says of her husband. “And then they would spray the Agent Orange, and it would be black the next day.” 

Jon’s tremors began in 2005. The couple sought medical advice and spent the next four years seeking answers before eventually securing his Parkinson’s diagnosis. 

Multigenerational care can be overwhelming

Caring for family members across multiple generations, including elderly parents, grandchildren, or other relatives, often simultaneously, is a common experience that can pose significant challenges. Without proper preparation or a strong support system, the demands of caregiving can become overwhelming, affecting both the caregiver and the care recipients. A strong support system often includes family, friends, and community resources that provide emotional support, assistance with caregiving tasks, and respite care to help caregivers manage their responsibilities effectively. Valley nonprofit Duet: Partners In Health and Aging is experiencing firsthand the growing demand for support from family caregivers. This assistance is vital, as caregiving challenges can affect the caregiver’s physical, emotional, and financial well-being, regardless of their age.

Eileen had a new reality and role—caregiver to Jon. In the midst of navigating the disease, their five-year-old grandson came to live with them, and it was then that Eileen first heard about the free-of-charge services for grandparents raising their grandchildren at Duet. She found support and resources for raising their grandchild and discovered the additional support Duet offers for family caregivers.

“I was getting overwhelmed with Jon,” Eileen said. “Who was showing signs of increased depression and mood swings, and our goal was to try to keep Jon living at home as long as possible.” 

Eileen began attending one of Duet’s family caregiver support groups. To supplement her support, Janet Richards, Duet’s director of family caregiver services, suggested our Caregiver Mentor/Mentee service to Eileen. 

Building a caregiver support system

This peer support service is a lifeline that bridges the gap between caregivers in need and seasoned caregivers eager to share their wisdom. A carefully selected mentor was then matched with Eileen, and her “village” grew by one very important person: Scott Drysdale.

Scott, a retired sales professional with Anheuser-Busch Companies, is a 67-year-old family caregiver who looks after his wife, Cindy, also living with Parkinson’s. Scott had 10 years’ experience caring for his wife, and he brought that experience and wisdom into his mentorship.

That wasn’t his only experience in mentorship; from restoring old cars to volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, mentoring was a natural extension of Scott’s penchant for helping others.

Duet has grown a community of 21 mentors and 25 mentees, each deeply invested in fostering vital one-on-one connections. The caregiver mentees find solace in knowing they’re not alone, with access to compassionate understanding from those who have walked a similar path, while the mentors embrace the opportunity to share their valuable insights and make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. Peer support offers a lifeline of shared wisdom, ensuring that mentors and mentees feel connected and empowered throughout their journey.

“It’s really more about validation that you’re doing the right things and having someplace to vent where you’re not ‘venting,’” Scott said. ”Really, you’re just sharing the journey together, as opposed to venting with somebody who has no idea because they’ve never walked in your shoes.” 

 Duet’s family caregiver support groups are a safe place to share circumstances and learn what to expect as a loved one’s disease progresses. But for Eileen and Scott, they have found an additional and unique way to survive and thrive by leaning on one another through their mentor/mentee relationship. 

“It’s a lonely job being a caregiver. It just is. And, I think, sometimes that loneliness doesn’t have to be such a big deal,” explains Scott. “I think everybody needs somebody to talk to, and that’s really what it comes down to.”

Family caregivers need support, both emotionally and physically, to prevent burnout and maintain their own well-being. Duet offers diversified family caregiver support groups, as well as a peer support Mentor/Mentee service as a valuable resource for caregivers to find one-on-one emotional support and guidance to navigate the challenging journey of caregiving. 

To learn more, please visit duetaz.org/peer-support-for-caregivers or contact Duet Family Caregiver Services at (602) 274-5022.

Author

  • Janelle Tapphorn

    Janelle Tapphorn is the marketing and outreach manager for Duet: Partners In Health & Aging. She has a Master of Arts in Journalism from Regent University, and over 20 years' experience in communications, writing, and editing with freelance articles for valley publications.

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