Author: Jane Strommen, PhD
Gerontology Specialist, North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension

Caregiving can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be filled with enormous physical, emotional, and financial challenges. It is essential for caregivers to maintain their own health and well-being while managing caregiving responsibilities. Yet, most caregivers receive little or no training to care for themselves.

North Dakota has 68,000 family caregivers who have provided 57 million hours of unpaid care valued at $980 million. These family caregivers provide a range of daily activities, such as transportation, personal care, managing finances, grocery shopping, and much more.

In my role as Gerontology Specialist with NDSU Extension, I have had the opportunity to bring the Powerful Tools for Caregivers (PTC) Program to North Dakota. The six-week course helps caregivers learn to take care of themselves, make difficult decisions and find helpful resources. The course allows family caregivers to connect with other caregivers who are experiencing similar situations and feelings.

The program continues to grow each year, in part from funding from the ND Department of Human Services, Aging Services Division, which allows family caregivers to attend the six-week course free of charge. There are currently four Master Trainers and over 70 certified class leaders in the state. Each year, class leader trainings have been offered to increase the number of individuals qualified to offer the PTC classes. Many County Extension Family and Community Wellness Agents have been trained, along with community partners, to make this program more accessible in rural counties and communities.

Since the global pandemic, family caregivers have experienced increased stress due to many factors, such as concerns of their loved ones being exposed to the virus, challenges of getting the health services or help their loved ones need, and the serious consequences of social isolation.

When COVID-19 caused nine in-person classes to be suspended or canceled, dedicated PTC class leaders rose to the challenge of helping family caregivers by learning new skills to offer the program online. Through mid-December 2020, 13 online workshops have been held with over 100 family caregivers completing the training. Ten new class leaders were also trained via an online delivery format. In addition to the traditional curriculum for caregivers of adults with chronic illness being offered, two classes for caregivers of children with special health and behavioral needs have also been offered during the pandemic.

We have heard very positive feedback from caregivers and class leaders about their experience with the PTC online classes. Below are a few of their comments:

“Thanks for the tools to make me a better caregiver!”
“There is a comfort being with others who are going through some of the same things”
“I really appreciate the leaders and the experience of the other attendees.”
“This workshop has been a great strength for me and my future.”
“Awesome classes, great study book and exercises and excellent instructors.”

Participants who completed the PTC workshop evaluations (in 2019) reported improvements in the following areas:

• 49 percent increase in their confidence in asking for help with tasks needed for caregiving
• 40 percent increase in taking time for themselves without feeling guilty
• 48 percent increase in doing something to make themselves feel better when discouraged
• 47 percent increase in finding positive ways to cope with the stress of caregiving
• 52 percent increase in their ability to find caregiving resources in their area

In addition, survey results indicated participants’ plans to use newly learned “tools” in the future:

• 76 percent plan to use Action Plans
• 82 percent plan to use Positive Self Talk
• 71 percent plan to use relaxation tools
• 66 percent plan to use “I” messages
• 62 percent plan to use long range goal setting

In summary, it has been very rewarding to see the positive impact of the PTC classes on participants, regardless of their specific caregiving situation. Improving the health and well-being of family caregivers preserves not only their own quality of life, but also helps their loves ones by allowing them to remain safely at home longer.

For more information about the Powerful Tools for Caregivers Program, contact Jane Strommen at or 701-231-5948.