by Marta Hiczewski

The role of caregiver is one that often includes isolation, burnout, lack of professional resources, financial constraints, and lack of support. In a rural community, distance and lack of transportation contribute to barriers affecting the physical and mental health of loved ones and caregivers.

According to a National Institute of Health (NIH) study, caregivers are mostly older, less educated females with lower incomes and multiple chronic health conditions, and one in four women and one in five men are caregivers. A Health Foundation for Western and Central New York Aging by Design study found that 90% of seniors want to remain in their homes for as long as possible, and 32% say living independently is their highest priority. The NIH Aging in Place: Growing Older at Home report, found assistance with personal care, household chores, meals, money management, and health care allows seniors to stay in their homes and save money.

Caregivers are essential to senior care support requirements, often providing care daily, which can be emotionally draining and physically exhausting. Often, caregivers don’t see themselves as caregivers, causing them to neglect their own health and well-being because of the demands involved in caring for their loved ones.

Harmonia Collaborative Care’s (Harmonia) senior services case managers and “CarePanions” support some basic needs of seniors; however, the load on caregivers is heavy. Many suffer from extreme stress and mental health concerns, and don’t know where to turn or how to ask for help. Harmonia is accustomed to working with caregivers and their loved ones through their Senior Services and Mental Health clinic. “The caregivers are the backbone. Without them, our loved ones would be in a nursing home or totally isolated,” says Jennifer Gunia, Harmonia’s Director of Senior Services.

This year, Harmonia’s two programs came together as part of a Caregiver Support Series, designed to help caregivers prioritize their self-care. Funded through the Ralph C. Wilson Legacy Fund, the series provided caregivers with emotional and practical support in five, one-hour sessions at Harmonia’s Derby location. Jennifer Gunia and Harmonia’s Mental Health Clinician Marissa Biondolillo, LMSW, led the sessions. Topics included the challenges caregivers face; the importance of self-care; benefits of mindfulness, stress reduction, simple breathing techniques; how to ask for help, set boundaries and follow through; how to relieve the financial burden through available benefits and entitlements for loved ones; and ways to connect to community resources. Caregivers were taught relaxation techniques, including on-line apps and Chi Gong, received a one-year subscription to the Calm App, and electronic pets for their loved ones. One participant, Barb Crispell says, “It was a relief to find out that we’re not alone. There are resources and people to talk to.”

Participants cared for parents, spouses, and children, sometimes simultaneously. Caregivers shared their stories on Harmonia’s YouTube channel at For more information about Harmonia’s Caregiver support call 716-947-5025 or email

Marta Hiczewski, MS is the managing partner of the Magellan Group.