After you've identified the informal support network, you may wish to expand that network. This can be accomplished in two ways-asking those already involved to take on additional tasks or identifying others who are willing to become involved. You may be feeling..."How can I ask a complete stranger to provide assistance for my relative?" Keep in mind, however, that persons included on your support network list are concerned about your relative and may be happy to offer other assistance as long as it does not appear overwhelming. Similarly, there are other people whom you have not yet identified who would help if they were aware of the need. A few suggestions for expanding your support system follow:

· Ask for help. Ask those already providing assistance to increase their support, if possible. For example, "Dad mentioned that you stop by periodically to visit and perhaps pick up something from the store. Dad is really having a difficult time grocery shopping. Would you be willing to stop by once a week to see if he needs something from the store?" Be direct when asking for assistance from new sources. For example, "I heard the Women's Group provides hot meals to seniors in the community. Please add my aunt's name to your list." · Make the task sound as simple as possible without being dishonest. "Mom really could use your help around the house. You know how neat she is, so you would only need to help with light dusting and the laundry every week or two."

· Again, show your appreciation. After you return home, send thank-you cards or short letters to persons on your support system list. Reaffirm the importance of their assistance and remind them to contact you if they notice any changes. Remember to continue to show your appreciation from time to time.

In asking for additional support, don't have several people providing the same assistance. If a person feels unneeded, he or she may discontinue helping. In constructing a support system, the goal is to create a complementary system of assistance whereby as many needs as possible are met.

You and your relative should try to reach a consensus about what supports are necessary. This may not be easy since your perceptions may differ greatly. It is important that your relative remain as independent as possible as long as physical and mental well-being are assured. Even if you may not come to a perfect agreement, try to keep the lines of dialogue open.

Next, examine the informal support already in existence. Most people have friends, fellow club members, relatives or others who already provide some support.

· Sit down with the older person and discuss social contacts. Who are your long-time family friends? Is your relative a member of a social club or recreational group? Are members of religious groups available to provide help? Who are the people your relative has assisted in the past?

· Make a list of those people who are helping your relative now. With your relative, talk with these people to find out exactly what assistance they're providing and list under their names. Don't forget to verify their addresses and phone numbers in case you need to reach them later.

· Explain your situation. Let them know of your concern and how difficult it is for you since you live out of town. Ask these people to contact you if your relative's situation changes. Remember to leave them your phone number and let them know they can call you collect.

· Show your appreciation for the assistance they are currently offering. Highlight its importance. For example, "Mom has told me how much your evening calls mean to her. She really looks forward to them, and I feel more secure knowing that someone is checking up on her well-being."


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