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Caregiver Specialists: Your Personal Guide Along Care Journey Path

August 31, 2021

by Alan Blitz


When Kathy Allen and Barbara Keefe needed to identify resources to care for their loved ones, they were connected to Caregiver Specialist Heather Resnick, who became their “go-to” guide on their respective journeys.   


“Through the NSSC caregiver support program I was able to help Kathy provide respite care for her mom, Doris, who required dementia care resources. I also served as Barbara’s adviser for the care of her husband, Andy, who was recovering from a stroke,” Heather said.


She explained, “The role of the caregiver specialist is to support the well-being of family caregivers of older adults through counseling and education.  It is our job to connect them with available resources such as support groups, respite care and grant funding for needed products and services.”


Heather provided counseling to both Kathy and Barbara about caregiver issues and took the time to listen, empathize and offer perspective, guidance and resources.  “Caregiving is stressful—an emotional rollercoaster—and our support is extremely important,” Heather pointed out.


NSSC has caregiver specialists on staff in Northfield, at the Niles location and at House of Welcome Adult Day Services. To connect with a caregiver specialist, call 847.784.6040.  


Kathy and Doris Share Their Story

Kathy Allen is the sole caregiver for her mother, Doris, who has Alzheimer’s disease.  To work full-time, Kathy needed to arrange for respite care and caregiver services daily.  Her mom currently resides at Avantara in Park Ridge. 


Feeling “overwhelmed “at the responsibility, Kathy contacted Heather Resnick.  “Heather was instrumental in getting the help needed for my mom so I could go to work.  Respite care also helps me run errands for about three to five hours per week.” 


In addition, NSSC staff helped with arranging food delivery bi-weekly during the pandemic and other caregiving resources. “They had provided a budget for supplies for my mom—a bed alarm, in-home cameras, and bathtub safety mechanism. “Heather was incredibly resourceful,” Kathy added.  “She was great about helping me or directing me to where I could find the assistance we needed. Heather helped alleviate some of the stress and was terrific in consistently being there for me and my mom.” 


Doris’ New Passion for Art 

Kathy needed to have a plan to keep her mom busy during the pandemic.  She reached out to Heather who directed her to online art creation resources.  Before long, Doris had created more than 200 pieces of amazing, beautiful artwork—all while Kathy was working from home.  A showcase of Doris’ artwork is being planned at Advocate Adult Day Facility and you can see examples of her exceptional creativity by visiting: “The Art of Alzheimer’s.”


Barbara and Andy Keefe Share Their Story

When Barbara Keefe’s husband, Andy, suffered a stroke almost nine years ago, they were both age 63.  Heather has been instrumental in making successful adjustments in their life. 


From the moment they connected, Barbara strongly felt that “Heather has been a continuing source of support and information.”  She checked in with Barbara and Andy on a regular basis with phone calls and visits to their home in Wilmette.


The road to Andy’s recovery from wheelchair to independent walking was long and arduous.  Both he and Barbara worked hard to succeed.  “Heather’s understanding and empathy for the situation they were in was a steady hand throughout.  And it still is,” Barbara said. 


Heather informed Barbara of resources available to provide respite care which includes overnight stays at facilities in the community.  “I was able to travel out of state, knowing that Andy was cared for properly,” Barbara said.  


In addition, Heather directed Barbara to local agencies that provided the hourly assistance needed for Andy.  The pandemic put a halt to many of the services provided, but places have slowly opened again. 


In his new identity as a person with a disability, Andy discovered that his love of storytelling could translate into art. Barbara framed his handwritten stories and watercolor illustrations and curated three art shows in town for the new budding artist.   


NSSC Caregiver Support Group a “Game-Changer”

Barbara logged on to her first Caregiver Support Group meeting for Spouses and Partners several weeks ago.  “It was wonderful to be in the company of others caring for their spouses.  Even though our caregiving situations do not exactly match up, the spouse connection is a great foundation for conversation.”


Barbara added, “I had a universal question about how other spouse caregivers were engaging their adult children and their answers were very helpful.”


The Caregiver Support Group for Spouses and Partners is among several groups developed to help participants share their experiences and improve the quality of their lives. Group members have different challenges feeling loss of the role of the partner or spouse, intimacy, and the re-negotiation of roles and responsibilities in the home such as managing finances.  


“Finally, I found a group for caregivers of spouses, not parents or children . . . a game changer for me,” Barbara pointed out.


The group meets the fourth Wednesday of each month from 3 to 4:30 p.m. via Zoom.  For additional information about this support group and other caregiver resources, email caregiversupport@nssc.org or call 847.424.5660.


Sound Advice from an Experienced Caregiver

Reflecting on the past several years of full-time caregiving for Andy, Barbara has several insights to share with others going through the same experience.


“When Andy’s stroke happened, everyone wanted to help, but I had no idea how to get ahead of the eight ball and know what I wanted or needed,” she said.  “It’s really important to be patient with yourself and understand the resources that are there to help.”


Barbara recommends that a great starting point is the NSSC website to navigate the resources and various programs available through Senior & Family Services and Senior Options.  


“A great way to start is to get educated from the comfort of your home,” she added.  “Learn what services are offered and then call and make an appointment. Schedule research time for yourself. This is self-care,” she points out. 


Another piece of advice from Barbara: “Try to find someone who is going through the same experience, ideally with a spouse.  I was fortunate to be connected through a friend to a woman who had spent years managing her husband’s care resulting from a stroke. “She became an ‘angel’ to me.” 


Barbara added, “I would be happy to talk with someone going through this experience. You are not alone, but you have to take a baby step-by-step approach, or it will be overwhelming. You can do this!”  


For additional information on caregiver resources, call Intake at 847.784.6040.



Caregiver Resources 


  • T-Care Assessment—Caregiver support services begin with an assessment tailored to meet your specific needs by a caregiver specialist.
  • Supportive Counseling—A family caregiver can meet one-on-one with a caregiver specialist to discuss issues, set goals or talk through feelings.
  • Respite Care—Provision of care for a loved one intended to give the caregiver a needed break. Services can be provided at home, in a nursing facility or adult day program for people living with memory loss, such as House of Welcome.
  • Educational Classes for Caregivers—Caregiver classes are offered a few times a year at various locations. Curricula include The Savvy Caregiver, Stress Busters and Powerful Tools for Caregivers. 
  • Caregiver Support Groups—Several caregiver support groups are offered at various locations. Specific groups include those caring for people with memory loss, Parkinson’s disease, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, a support group for spouses and partners, and another group for adult children who are caregivers. 
  • Gap-Filling Funds—Grant funding that can be utilized to pay for something for a loved one to reduce isolation and enhance quality of life. These funds can be used to purchase things such as adaptive technology, medical supplies, a window air conditioner, hearing aids or transportation. 
  • Special events—A caregiver celebration is held in November in honor of National Family Caregivers Month. Other educational or social events may be offered throughout the year.
  • Memory Café—A safe, friendly and supportive space where people living with dementia and their care partners can have fun, socialize and connect with others. Meets at NSSC the first and third Fridays of the month from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Starting in October, the group will meet once a month on the second Monday of the month.  


Related New York Times article: Who Will Take Care of America's Caregivers?