Caregivers logging on for care

Service provides psychiatric counseling via e-mail


NARA — A psychiatrist reads an e-mail from a volunteer at a nursing home. The caregiver says she is at a loss over how to deal with a resident who tells her erotic things and gives her loving looks.

The doctor says the man may be thinking of her as a spouse or close family member, adding that sometimes the emotional relationship between caregivers and recipients becomes familial. The worker responds, saying it was good to know she didn’t have to take the man’s behavior personally.

The exchange is an example of e-mail counseling for workers in welfare, medicine and home care. The e-mail pilot support project was launched in August by a group within Tanpopo no ye, a Nara-based social welfare organization.

The service reflects the growing needs of caregivers amid an aging population. Hiromi Moriguchi, who serves as secretariat of the group, says few hospitals or welfare institutions recognize the importance of such counseling and that there is no place for caregivers to talk about their problems.

Tanpopo no ye, which has been running a facility for the disabled for nearly 30 years, created the caregivers advice group in 1999.

Listening to caregivers through questionnaires and meetings, the group has realized that many such workers suffer in isolation from both physical and mental burdens that are part of the job. Moriguchi said some staff members of Tanpopo no ye itself have quit due to exhaustion.

On a more positive note, the group has also learned that many gain satisfaction and joy in caring for others.

“When I heard the concept of caring for caregivers, I quickly recognized its importance,” Moriguchi said. “Providing care for caregivers also includes self-care, releasing oneself by doing what one likes to do and looking at oneself from another perspective.”

In the pilot project, which runs until the end of the month, the group allocates each incoming e-mail to two of the group’s eight experts, including a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist, depending on the subject.

As of Oct. 8, it had received 30 messages, including one from a family member of a schizophrenic, asking about medical issues, and from an employee of a welfare institution for the mentally disabled, asking what to say to a client who had lost a loved one and tried to commit suicide.

Believing that many more people facing such problems exist than those who have actually sent e-mails, the group posts some of the dialogues on its open Web site.

“Knowing there is a place you can seek advice may be of some help to caregivers,” Moriguchi said.

One potential shortcoming is that the e-mail mostly comes from workers in their 30s. “E-mail may not be such a good tool for older people,” Moriguchi said.

In November, Tanpopo no ye will hold forums on caring for caregivers in Tokyo and six other cities: Osaka, Sendai, Aomori, Miyazaki, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture and Sakata, in Yamagata Prefecture. The forums will feature overseas and local experts.

Speakers will include Fumiko Dozono, general manager at Dozono Medical House in Kagoshima; Amy Hamblin, arts program director of Washington Medical Center; Sandra Bertman, a professor of humanities in medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center; and Fumiko Makino, head of the Caregiver Support Network Center Aradin, a nonprofit organization in Tokyo.

“In the past two forums, we mainly discussed the meaning of care, but this time we put more focus on the practical side, giving different examples from Japan and the U.S.,” she said. “Although it may be difficult to introduce the same ideas, I hope participants will learn some of the concepts behind various practices.”