Caring is a basic human activity. We are social beings, and each of our lives is connected to others through giving and receiving care of all kinds. Seeing those connections clearly and appreciating each person’s contributions makes it easier to manage care needs and be more resilient when the unexpected happens.
The Atlas CareMap has proven to be a powerful but simple solution that helps to visualize the interplay of caring in our own families and communities. After three years of experience with individuals and organizations across the world, we have seen the significant impact of people taking time to observe and contemplate their unique caregiving situations.
Betty was brought to tears when she drew her caremap, as it made her more aware of how overwhelmed she was, of how untenable her situation was. This awareness led her to appreciate that she really needed help, and that to seek help did not mean that she was a negligent daughter/mother/wife. She shared her map with her husband and children, and they began to help much more in the care of Betty’s mother and in housework. It made a huge difference! Inspired, Betty has gone on to teach other family members, friends and even her employees to draw Atlas CareMaps and think about what it implies for their lives.
“Atlas CareMaps provide a great way to actively engage caregivers in self-care as well as to deepen their understanding of their own strengths and support systems,” says Dr. Laura Mosqueda, Dean of the USC Keck School of Medicine, who uses the Atlas CareMap in her research with family caregivers. “It’s a practical, thoughtful method that everyone can use.”
We have just released two free booklets that make it easier for more people and organizations to use the Atlas CareMap. “Seeing the Invisible” is a step-by-step guide for creating and using your own personal caremap. “Sparking Transformative Conversations” takes the tool even further by helping leaders introduce the Atlas CareMap to their businesses and communities.
The Atlas CareMap is an innovative tool, backed by a thoughtful process for understanding family care ecosystems. It helps people see their own interconnectedness and sparks social conversations about care.
A caremap is also something very simple: a drawing that shows who is caring for whom and how in a particular family. The drawing features “Actors”—people, pets, professionals and places—represented by shapes and symbols. Actors are connected by “Links”—different types of lines and arrows that show who provides support and at what frequency.
In today’s technology-intensive world, one of the most refreshing aspects of the Atlas CareMap is the rediscovery of the power of pen and paper. “To draw by hand, to slow down and note what details are important, to see your world in a new way, and to feel it as you create something, is to become more in-tune with your world and yourself in the process,” says Giorgia Lupi, Design Director at renowned data-design firm Accurat.
Of course caremaps do not have to be hand-drawn. Accurat developed a beautiful, interactive digital version of the Atlas CareMap that provides additional flexibility for creating and analyzing caremaps.
For all its simplicity, the Atlas CareMap is a powerful tool for helping people better understand and manage their lives. It allows for deep reflection and empowerment, even in difficult times.
Author Donna Thomson has used the Atlas CareMap in her own life and says the process “enables caregivers to gaze into a non-judgmental, dispassionate mirror… in a way that makes the very personal possible to examine and evaluate.” In her book “The Unexpected Journey of Caring: The Transformation from Loved One to Caregiver,” she and co-author Zachary White say “by looking at their relationships drawn, caregivers are offered a glimpse of control over their lives.”
The Atlas CareMap also helps strengthen broader care communities. According to Susannah Fox, former Chief Technology Officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “the concept of ‘peer-to-peer health’—people sharing knowledge with and supporting each other—is a revolutionary trend, as people discover that their community may be their superpower.”
By starting conversations about caring, the Atlas CareMap unleashes that superpower. Caremaps inspire friends and neighbors to discover how much they can gain from sharing experiences. The result? Decreased isolation, increased sense of community, and deeper caregiving expertise.
“Atlas CareMaps make communities visible, and help to expose the gap when someone is isolated,” Fox says. “By recognizing and mapping relationships, we can spark deeper conversations about health and wellbeing.”
Social service professionals have used the Atlas CareMap to better understand the families they serve and help improve how clients care for themselves.
One of the most exciting results from our work developing the Atlas CareMap has been the value it has brought, not just to individual families, but also to organizations and businesses. Once you have drawn and reflected on your own caremap (and I encourage everyone to do it!), consider how your clients, colleagues or employees might benefit from doing the same.
The potential of the Atlas CareMap goes far beyond those who work in service fields. Businesses from all sectors are facing a caregiving crisis, but according to “A Caring Company,” a recent Harvard Business School report, “employers remain largely oblivious to the growing costs of the hidden ‘care economy’—costs that hurt employers and employees alike.”
Before jumping to solutions that may or may not be helpful to employees, businesses can use the Atlas CareMap to help illuminate the needs of their workforce. In “Digital Tools and Solutions for Caregivers: An Employer’s Guide,” the Northeast Business Group on Health recommends that employers encourage creating Atlas CareMaps “before determining which digital tools to offer as benefits.”
At Atlas of Caregiving, we work with organizations to deploy the Atlas CareMap in a range of settings. Together, we have learned that all people can benefit from reflecting on their own care ecosystems. It is my hope that these two new booklets on how to use the Atlas CareMap will make it easier for YOU to do the same. Grab a pen!