How a Former Caregiver is Helping Others

Lisa Marie Chirico is an Everyday Wellness Coach, caregiving expert, and founder of Care Planet. Lisa is on a mission to empower family caregivers as well as people searching for more positivity and greater well-being in their lives through her personalized coaching and special events. Lisa is also an Alzheimer’s Advocate, Long-Term Care Advocate, and an Elder-Care Specialist. After living through the journey as a family caregiver, Lisa wanted to help others during this difficult moment in their lives.

The interview below has been edited for clarity and length. 

 

Ben: How did you get involved in caregiving? 

Lisa: My dad passed away in 2013. He had Alzheimer's disease, and he needed skilled nursing. So I packed up my home from Florida and moved near him. I learned quickly that caregiving was a lot more complicated than I ever thought it would be. Due to the disease, he had a lot of special needs. He was no longer walking or talking.

That was hard for our family. My father was a big personality -- he was the life of the party and so outgoing. So it was very difficult to have Dad lose his voice. That was heartbreaking. So I became his voice. And he needed a lot of support. 

Ben: Why did you feel the need to move close to him even if he was in a home full of professional caregivers? 

Lisa: Nursing homes traditionally, even before the pandemic, are short staffed, and those staff are underpaid and overworked. We were blessed with a group of great caregivers, but my dad still needed an advocate. He couldn't communicate for himself; so I wanted to physically be there to see him and his caregivers.

Ben: What sort of support did you have outside of his nursing home? 

Lisa: Not much. I didn't reach out for support, and should have. I didn't go to the local Alzheimer's support group, or even let people know on Facebook how difficult life became for my dad and me. Families need to do that. I ended up having to leave the workforce because of my caregiving responsibilities. 

My dad passed away in 2013. Since then, I've been helping other families. I felt very passionate about sharing what I've learned. I started a company called Nursinghomeology in 2015 to do just that, which I turned into Care Planet after the pandemic. 

Ben: How does Care Planet help people?

Lisa: It's for families who are providing care for a loved one. I'm a certified life and grief coach. Through my background and experience, I deeply understand the world of caregiving. I help my clients manage that experience. Care Planet is a resource hub for caregiving, including conferences and gatherings as well as content and other supports. 

Ben: What kind of help are you giving to people when they reach out to you? What are they looking for? 

Lisa: Transitioning from being your mom or dad’s full-time caregiver into a member of their support team can be a challenging transition for many. They're no longer on the front lines of caregiving, while people they might not know at all now fill the frontline-ranks. So I help them navigate this new world and set up systems for them to better understand (and help) the professional caregivers. But a lot of my counseling is focused around grief. It’s a tough time to move a parent into a care community – it represents such a profound transition in their life and that of their family. 

Lisa: I counsel the patients themselves. This often happens after a diagnosis. They're very scared about what's to come and are already grieving. I'm helping people shift their mindset and see it through a different lens: that it's more hopeful to bring joy into their lives and to experience the present moment. 

Ben: That sounds like an easier task to accomplish than it probably is in reality. 

Lisa: We all have the ability within us to shift away from the mundaneness of our everyday world and to see ourselves as the magnificent beings that we are, and to see the magnificence in all of us. We're flawed. We're human. We're sick; we're dying. But we have this magnificent light in all of us. So to shift away from the despair and the fear is not an easy thing. But I do have techniques for my clients to practice. It doesn't happen overnight. 

Ben: Caregiving is not easy on family members. There's a lot of burnout, and even guilt associated with it. They feel a lack of control.

Lisa: If you're going to see a loved one at nursing home and are just full of guilt, it's not going to be a good visit for you and your loved one. So you need to shift the focus to something positive for both your sakes 

Ben: What's your goal with Care Planet?

Lisa: Education is important. Before starting Nursinghomeology in 2015, I spent a lot of time in Facebook groups about caregiving and dementia. It's heartbreaking to see how many people are desperately looking for help. So I wanted to create a central location with expert advice. And to that end, I conducted an event in 2019 before the pandemic called the "Dementia Caregiver Cruise and Conference."

Ben: Would love to hear more about the Dementia Cruise.

Lisa: I wanted to organize an event with excellent expert advice around dementia, for those who have it and their families. So I decided to organize a multiple-day conference, but have it on a cruise ship! There's nothing like it. It was a beautiful experience from start to finish. The cruise was a way to give people a community. We gathered for dinner, we got off the ship and got went to the islands in the Caribbean and had a great time. People shared stories and tips. A boat-full of empathy and understanding.

I invited a great group of speakers who touched on a variety of topics, from financial services, the caregiving journey, healthcare, etc. Each morning we listened to a speaker. The attendees sat at the tables, took notes, learned, and were empowered. And that takes fear away, lightens the burden that's so tough on their shoulders. And to be clear, only adults in early stages of dementia were invited. We did not allow adults who wander or might be any danger to attend. So this really was for families at the beginning of their journey with dementia. 

Ben: And for people who are reading this interview now and want to learn more from you, where can they go? What should they do?

Lisa: They can go to CarePlanet.co. They can find content that focuses on care, caregiving, and also the other side of it, which is making our lives better with my life coaching. And if anyone does want to connect and talk, you can email me at Lisa@CarePlanet.co 

Ben: Anything else exciting that's on the horizon? 

Lisa: Since the pandemic, we of course stopped the Dementia Cruise, but hope to start it up again soon. I pivoted into the online world and am in the midst of organizing a virtual conference that will have the same learning goals, but without buffets and beaches. If anyone is interested in participating, please go to www.CarePlanet.co for more info! I also have my own podcast, Time-Love-Coffee-Peace, which can be found wherever you get your podcasts.

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