Cultivating a circle of support when we need help can take time, especially when calling on family may not be an option. I’ve been working remotely for the last several months in Virginia where I grew up most of my young adulthood, to help my niece get set up to go to college, get her first job and start living on her own. While I can call on a few of my old friends, my father and his very supportive network, creating a community and friends to help you, takes time and research, with or without family available.
When I think about occasions in life when it’s customary for us to reach out and receive help, having and raising children comes to mind. Circles of support are created to provide meals and rides to appointments and school, and planned time for parents to have a break. The same is true for an acute illness - broken leg, surgery, or even cancer. There’s a rally around the patient with an eye on the future when they are “back to health.” Less common is a rally around someone who needs help with day-to-day errands.
Our needs may change over time and everyone’s needs are different. Some may want to travel every year and others may enjoy staying local in their community. And over time interests and energy change and we may adjust how many things we take on at once or may limit certain activities altogether. At some point in our lives, we all need support to adjust to changes in physical and emotional health. And finding people to call on for help may be more challenging as friends and family pass on or become ill.
The following are ideas for creating a circle of support as we age.
Creating a social network to help you (no, I don’t mean Facebook)
Developing support in your community is about creating a network of people you can count on. A village is a membership organization that provides support to help older adults stay engaged and independent in their community. They are typically run by volunteers (some have staff) and offer learning and social programming, volunteer drivers, computer help, yard help, access to a list of screened service providers and more. There is a network of villages throughout the country and membership dues range and can be sliding depending on household income. Villages are not home care and they are not brick and mortar living communities. They are a “cadre of caring neighbors who want to change the paradigm of aging.” To find a village near you go to: https://www.vtvnetwork.org/content.aspx?page_id=1905&club_id=691012.
Paying for guidance and support
Geriatric Care Managers are a sort of "professional relative" who can help you and your family to identify needs and find ways to meet your needs. They are usually licensed nurses or social workers who specialize in geriatrics. To learn more about Geriatric Care Managers, visit this links: http://nia.nih.gov/health/what-geriatric-care-manager, and to find a certified Geriatric Care Manager in your area, go to: https://www.aginglifecare.org/ALCA/.
Whoever you choose, it’s important to identify a person or group who you can call on. It’s an essential part of a plan to age well.