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Sunday Seniors: With $30,000 grant, D-H program looks to help caregivers turn efforts inward

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/21/2021 5:02:26 PM
Modified: 11/21/2021 5:02:11 PM

Caring for a person with a complicated illness can be, well, complicated.

And like so many other things, it’s been made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic. But there has been one silver lining, as evidenced by virtual caregiver support groups provided by the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center: a way to include more caregivers.

“For years before the pandemic we thought about setting up virtual caregiver groups, and when we were forced to (meet remotely), what we found is we were now able to bring together an audience that had no capacity to participate face-to-face,” said Ellen Flaherty, vice president of the Geriatric Center of Excellence at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health.

Sometimes those sessions, led by chaplain Deadra Ashton, featured an expert to talk about mindfulness, mindful art or movement, providing participants with short activities they can do in fewer than 10 minutes to practice self-care.

“One of the things I noticed — sometimes what they didn’t have were tangible tools that would help them in a moment to care of themselves and take a break,” Ashton said. “Hopefully these are tools that they can take into their day-to-day life and have simple things that will help them.”

The Aging Resource Center will now have a chance to build on that success after it was awarded a $30,000 grant from health insurance provider Cigna for “The Self-Care Sampler for Family Care Partners,” a yearlong virtual program set to start in January that includes free five-week programs featuring various self-care techniques like mindfulness, art and stretching. At the beginning and end of each program, caregivers will be given a survey to measure their stress to see if the self-care techniques they learned helped. An advance practice nurse will also discuss “prevention and promotion” to encourage caregivers to look after their own health.

“It’s support-plus. The impetus for this was to think about “Are there very practical things that we could provide to caregivers to focus on their wellness and their stress?’ ” Flaherty said. “That was the overarching goal.”

It can be hard to block off time for self-care, especially for people caring for someone whose behavior is unpredictable, Ashton said. But, “if they can catch five minutes and just be aware of how their body feels and do a little stretch” it could help relieve their stress, even if it’s just for a moment.

Ashton has already seen anecdotal evidence that this has worked during the pilot program. One caregiver used a mindfulness technique while sitting in a waiting room as her mother met with a doctor.

“No one knew she was doing it, but it made a difference to her,” Ashton said.

If the program proves successful, Flaherty said the Aging Resource Center will try to find the funding to continue it. Throughout the pandemic, Flaherty and Ashton were continually awed by caregivers’ strength. It’s also shown that more can be done to support people who are doing unpaid labor to care for their loved ones.

“People end up doing, I think, more than they ever thought that they could, rising to an occasion they never thought they could cope with,” Ashton said. “It takes a toll, but they’re resilient.”

Editor’s note: To learn more about the Aging Resource Center and its programs, visit Sign up for the newsletter or email for announcements about when the “The Self-Care Sampler for Family Care Partners” will officially start up and how to participate.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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