Will Harris

Photo of a man in white shirt showing phone to a man in a yellow sweatshirt on a graphic that says Caregiver Tips and Suggestions below it

By Bob Lujano, NCHPAD Expert Inclusion Specialist

Being a caregiver does not mean that you must now sacrifice your health. If you have recently added the responsibility of being a caregiver for a spouse, parent, or other family or friend, please take time to take care of your own health as well.

My wife has recently become the main caregiver of my mother-in-law, but I also share many of those same responsibilities. As a person with a disability, I also have some secondary health conditions, so it’s extremely important that I pay extra attention to my health – and my wife’s health as well.

Here are some ways that I stay healthy as a caregiver:  

Me time.

Once you have made the important decision to be a caregiver, make the same commitment to have some time for yourself. There is nothing wrong with having some ME time. It is this me time that can help you become a better caregiver.


This first step is very important when you become a caregiver. Set up a daily schedule for caregiving, and schedule a time of day for meals, exercise, sleep and activities. This can help you stay organized in order to schedule that me time.  

Accountability person.

An accountability person is someone who can cover your responsibilities as a caregiver AND check in on you. Make sure you have a backup person who can take over your responsibilities, even if it’s just an hour or two! And have regular conversations with your accountability person ensure that you are taking care of yourself.

I am that accountability person for my wife. I help her out by preparing meals and taking her to dinner. I also encourage her to take time for herself while I take care of her mother. We also play tennis and go swimming together to get some exercise and de-stress from work.

Sleep and rest.

If you have taken care of young children, do you remember the suggestion of sleeping when the child sleeps? I definitely do! This is a good suggestion for caregivers, too. There’s nothing wrong with scheduling your own sleep, naps and rest time along with the person you are providing care for. Artificial intelligence (AI) devices such as an Alexa can help with scheduling naps and activities. For people with disabilities, these devices are accessible and voice-activated.

Your health is just as important! Follow these tips and learn more about additional caregiver resources below!

Additional Caregiver Resources

NCHPAD Connect links you to free resources, communities and wellness programs specifically tailored to people with a wide range of physical disabilities. Here’s what you should know.

NCHPAD Connect

NCHPAD Connect is a valuable resource that can help you and the person you are caring for to stay healthy and well.

  • Personalized resource recommendations: NCHPAD Connect can recommend health and wellness resources tailored to the specific needs of the person you care for. This can be a huge time-saver for caregivers, as it can be difficult to know where to start looking for inclusive health and wellness resources.
  • Free, online programs: NCHPAD Connect offers a variety of free health and wellness programs that focus on mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, diet and weight management. These programs can help caregivers and the people they care for to stay healthy and manage any secondary conditions.
  •  Expert Inclusion Specialists (EIS): NCHPAD Expert Inclusion Specialists (EIS), including Bob Lujano and Cara Riggins, provide access to free, personalized resources and programs to anyone who needs them! Learn more about Cara in our recent blog.

Additional Articles

Care for Caregivers 


Being a Caregiver 


A blue and white graphic with a photo of Cara Riggins with the NCHPAD Connect logo and the word spotlight below it

How long have you been with NCHPAD?

Four years.

Tell us about your background & education. What brought you to NCHPAD?

I have a bachelor’s degree in health education and promotion from Berea College and a Master of Public Health from Tennessee State University. Before coming to NCHPAD, I worked at Lakeshore Foundation with NCHPAD and a few other grants. I also worked as an epidemiologist at the state health department for a few years, but my background spans federal and state agencies – primarily in the health education realm.

How long have you worked with people with disabilities?

Since I started with NCHPAD.

What program or programs do you work with? How long have you worked with that program?

NCHPAD Connect. I’ve been with it since its inception. I’m an Expert Inclusion Specialist (EIS) providing participants with tailored health resources.

What talents or expertise do you bring to NCHPAD or this program?

I’m super organized and pay attention to small details. I think small details are important for helping larger programs run efficiently.

What is your favorite thing about NCHPAD or this program?

Providing people with free health resources and things they would have had to pay for elsewhere. I like that it’s free, especially given today’s economy. It’s hard to find anything this valuable for free.

What’s your favorite NCHPAD resource or video series?

I like the Five Meals, One Bag resource. I hate food waste, and I like that this series gives people ideas for five meals in one bag. Each meal uses the same ingredients to minimize food waste.

What are you most looking forward to in this program?

Just providing people with free health resources and programs. It’s almost impossible to find anything this valuable for no cost. I really like being able to connect people to those programs.

What hobbies do you have outside of work?

I’m a plant mommy, so I enjoy taking care of them. I got into gardening at the beginning of the pandemic and enjoy that. I also love to travel and explore new restaurants in the city.

What’s your favorite food, favorite thing to cook or favorite recipe?

Anything sweet and traditional Thanksgiving foods.

What’s your favorite music, movies or tv shows?

Music: 2000s hip hop and R&B. My favorite movie is Mean Girls. TV Shows: Law and Order: SVU.

What’s the last book you read? How was it?

Room on the Broom. It’s a children’s book. I have two small kids, so I rarely read for myself!

Who or what inspires you?

My family!

What’s your favorite quote?

The will of God will not take where you the grace of God will not protect you.

If you could switch careers for a day, what would you choose?

I would be a food/travel blogger.

What’s one thing (not related to your job) that you could teach someone else how to do?

How to do their nails.

A Pumpkin Cheesecake Smoothie in a glass jar with a straw. The words "Pumpkin Cheesecake Smoothie, a sweet and healthy treat!" on it.

Want to enjoy something sweet AND healthy this Thanksgiving? Our pumpkin cheesecake smoothie recipe gives you lean protein and healthy fat – and is full of great fall flavor!

Pumpkin isn’t just a delicious holiday pie flavor. While pumpkin does add delicious flavor to many recipes, it also provides some key nutrients. Pumpkin is full of beta-carotene that helps promote healthy vision and immune function, and pumpkin is also a great source of fiber.

To top it off, adding heart-healthy oats will keep you fuller for longer and add even more heart-healthy fiber, and the low-fat yogurt and protein powder add plenty of lean protein.

“Pumpkin is an excellent source of Vitamin A, which is important to preserve vision, fight infections and maintain healthy skin,” said NCHPAD Registered Dietitian Emily McCallister. “Pumpkin is also a great source of fiber – a nutrient that helps stabilize blood sugar, along with potassium, which helps with muscle contraction, blood pressure and mineral balance within our cells. Be sure to purchase 100% pumpkin puree to receive all its health benefits without the added sugar.”

Watch the video below and check out the ingredients below the video.


1 cup canned pumpkin

½ frozen banana

1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt

1 cup fat-free milk

½ cup old-fashioned oats

1 teaspoon ground flax seed

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 scoop vanilla protein powder

Sprinkle of nutmeg

A blue and white graphic with a photo of Bob Lujano with the NCHPAD Connect logo and the words Self Care for Caregivers below it

Caregiving is a rewarding but challenging role. And as a caregiver, it’s so important to also take care for yourself.

In recognition of National Family Caregivers Month, we put together five easy tips on how to care for yourself – while caring for a loved one.

  1. Nutrition. Eating well is beneficial for so many reasons. A healthy diet can help reduce the risk of some diseases, increase your energy and ability to stay healthy, and improve your overall well-being. Focus on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean cuts of meat and whole grains. And a healthy diet isn’t a bland or boring! Check out our recipe videos for some great recipes that are simple, delicious AND healthy.
  2. Physical activity. Physical activity has many benefits: improved brain health, disease risk reduction, weight management, heart health and mental health improvement. It is recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week. If this seems overwhelming, try breaking up activities you enjoy several times a week. Not sure where to start? Try our home workout series for simple exercises you can do in the comfort of your own home.
  3. Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a type of meditation where you focus on what you are feeling and sensing in the moment. Mindfulness allows you to slow down, be present in the moment and only focus on one thing at a time. Meditation can help reduce anxiety and depression as well as improve sleep and mood. Try to make time every day to practice some sort of mindfulness. Get started with our guided meditation series.
  4. Get outdoors. Spending time in nature can be healing for a variety of reasons. It can improve your physical and mental health, help improve your immune system illness and can even help reduce stress. Being outdoors can inspire your creativity and expose you to new things. You never know – it could become your new favorite hobby!
  5. Spend time with family. Spending time with family or people you care about can lead to stronger relationships, emotional intelligence and may provide a sense of togetherness. Studies have shown that having solid social interaction can improve your psychological well-being, may lengthen life and is good for cardiovascular health. Prioritize relationships and spend time with people who you care about!
A graphic with the words Great American Smokeout 2023 on it with the NCHPAD logo below it and an image of a no smoking simple.

The Great American Smokeout, held on the third Thursday of November every year, encourages smokers across the nation to commit to quitting smoking for at least one day, in the hopes that it will lead to a smoke-free future.

While the focus of this event is on the broader population, it’s important to know how this initiative can be especially impactful for people with disabilities.

Smoking poses unique challenges and risks to individuals with disabilities, making the event a prime opportunity for change, empowerment and improved health outcomes.

Tobacco Prevalence in People with Disabilities

People with disabilities face many barriers to health and wellness access. As a result, people with disabilities often are more susceptible to preventable health problems that decrease their overall health and quality of life. Contributing factors include limited access to health programs and services that meet their needs.

According to the CDC, current cigarette smoking is significantly higher among adults with a disability (19%) compared to adults without a disability (11%). The percentage of adults with disabilities using E-cigarettes is also higher (8%) compared to adults without disabilities (3.9%). Adolescents with disabilities are also consistently more likely to smoke cigarettes compared with their nondisabled peers (Senders et al., 2020) .                           

Access to tobacco prevention and cessation programs and public information campaigns can significantly improve the health and wellness of people, including those with disabilities. It’s especially important to provide inclusive programs aimed to provide equal access to people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized. This includes those having physical or intellectual disabilities or belonging to other minority groups.

Strategies for Tobacco Avoidance and Cessation

Quitting smoking is important for many reasons. It improves quality of life, reduces the risk of many smoking-related diseases and can add up to 10 years to life expectancy.

Public health organizations promoting health and wellness must prioritize access to resources, education and programs that will lead people with disabilities to engage in positive healthy behaviors related to a smoke-free life. The graphic below highlights strategies for avoiding – and quitting – tobacco.

An infographic with the NCHPAD logo, Special Olympics Health logo, and CDC logo at the top with the following text below it: Stay Smoke-Free and Take Control of Your Health Today Choose Health, Avoid Tobacco and secondhand smoke. Why Tobacco avoidance is important. Staying tobacco free helps you breathe better. Tobacco use affects your lungs, heart, bones, teeth, and causes cancer. Tobacco use is an expensive habit – Save money and use it on things that help you live healthy. Breathing in secondhand smoke is also harmful to your health. What is Secondhand Smoke? Smoke from a cigarette or tobacco product Smoke breathed out by a smoker. Avoid Tobacco in All Forms Avoid cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vaping, chew, and all tobacco products. Almost 30% of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are affected by secondhand smoke. How to avoid secondhand smoke? Decide to have a smoke free home and car. Choose to go to places that are smoke-free or leave the room. Say “I want to stay healthy and fresh air helps me stay strong” so you can stop smoking or go elsewhere. Call a friend and join them to do something outside. Support friends and family as they quit smoking. Choose Health, Not Tobacco Here are things I can choose to do: If I do not use tobacco, I choose not to start. If I smoke, I will ask to my doctor to help me quit. If I chew tobacco, I will ask my doctor to help me quit. If I smoke or chew tobacco, I will ask my friends and family to support me to quit. If you avoid tobacco, you can… Live a long and healthy life. Stay active with a positive mind.
A green graphic with the words How to practice mindfulness during the holidays on it with the NCHPAD Connect logo and an illustration of a person's head with a heart over the mind.

By Emily Hornsby, NCHPAD Mindfulness Instructor

The holiday season can be an exciting time of the year, but it can also be overwhelming. Travel, parties and events, making time for friends or loved ones, and added financial responsibilities are just a few of the stressors this time of year. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this added stress from the holiday season or just need to pause, a few simple mindfulness practices can help you pause, relax and enjoy the holiday season.

  1. Mindful pausing: Pausing for a moment or two to notice what you can perceive through your senses, moving from thinking into direct experience. 
  2. Mindful breath: Taking three breaths mindfully as an invitation to relax and create space between your thoughts.
  3. Heart hug: Gently placing your hand over or near your heart space (or imagining holding your hand to your heart) can cause the release of oxytocin, one of our “feel good” hormones. Feel or imagine the warmth of your palm on your body, and take a few intentional breaths. Over time, your body learns this response and a quick gesture will work.
  4. Self-hug: Place your arm or arms over your chest or another part of your body and give yourself a hug, or imagine giving yourself a hug. This action has the same effect as a heart hug. 
  5. Other gentle touch: Gently rubbing your hands or fingers together, placing your hand on your thigh, or placing your palm against your cheek. Some people find a light tapping with their fingers at the center below their collarbones reassuring. 
  6. Tuning into sensation: If your movement is limited, you might feel the air as it hits your skin on the face or another part of the body. Experiment to see what works best for you.
  7. Spend time in nature to become more grounded and reconnect with yourself. You may want to try leaving your phone or electronic device at home when you spend time outdoors so you connect with your surroundings. Hear the birds sing, listen to the wind blowing through the leaves on the trees, or notice birds and other animals.
  8. Practice Mindfulness Meditation to help you rest your attention on the present. Sit quietly and focus on your breath, another anchor-like ambient sound (background or surrounding noise), an object in the room, or another part of your body like your hands or feet. When thoughts, feelings and emotions come into your awareness – and they will – gently notice them. You can even name them to yourself – thoughts are here, planning is here, fear is here, anxiety is here – and then let them go and return to your breath or other anchor. It’s just like training a puppy repeatedly; you return to your breath or other anchor. By practicing mindfulness meditation, you are retraining your brain to be in the present rather than worrying about the future or ruminating about the past.
  9. Practice gratitude by either mentally noting what you are grateful for regularly or keeping a gratitude journal and writing down a few things you are thankful for.
  10. Don’t forget to do what you enjoy: Exercising, playing a sport, playing a musical instrument, listening to music, painting, sculpting, gardening, spending time with family and friends, or even watching a favorite movie or TV show are all beneficial. It’s easy to get caught up in the to-do list of the holidays and forget to do the things we enjoy. 
  11. Above all else, be kind to yourself.

Interested in more Mindfulness content? Check out our Mindfulness series on our YouTube channel.

NCHPAD Connect What is an EIS graphic with blue border

Did you know that NCHPAD offers personalized resources for people with physical disabilities and mobility limitations? Our expert inclusion specialists, or EIS, provide access to free, personalized resources and programs to anyone who needs them – anywhere in the country.

But what exactly is an EIS – and how do you connect with them? Here’s what you should know.

What is an Expert Inclusion Specialist?

A NCHPAD EIS guides people with mobility disabilities and chronic health conditions to a wide range of resources. Our team also provides professional training and resources to coaches, educators, caretakers and healthcare providers.

“We provide people with tailored, disability-specific resources,” said Cara Riggins, EIS with NCHPAD since 2019. “This includes programs or helpful everyday resources in many areas.”

“We are representatives of NCHPAD who find and create resources to share with people with disabilities,” said Bob Lujano, a NCHPAD EIS who’s been with the team since 2012. “The resources are on a wide range of topics like accessible places, organizations, parks and programs. We cover many, many areas!”

How to reach an EIS

EIS expertise is always free and available 7 AM-7 PM Monday-Friday.

The primary way to contact an EIS is through the NCHPAD Call Center. Our Call Center team works with individuals to get them enrolled in NCHPAD Connect, answer questions related to programs or connect them to an EIS for community resources and technical assistance.

To reach the NCHPAD Call Center, call 866-866-8896 or email nchpad@uab.edu.

Professional training

NCHPAD EIS also have experience in professional training. Since 2016, our EIS have served as implementation coordinators in training a wide range of individuals, from state public health departments to service providers and program developers.

This training covers health-promotion topics and practices through in-person and virtual sessions. The center has trained tens of thousands of health and wellness professionals in such topics as:

  • Disability awareness and inclusion
  • Inclusive worksite wellness
  • Inclusive and healthy communities
  • Supplemental nutrition assistance program and inclusion
  • Rx for exercise and healthcare providers
  • Inclusive diabetes prevention programs
  • Active and inclusive school programs

“Another part of our job is to create resources and disseminate them to educators, healthcare providers, consumers, and fitness professionals to fill the need where people with disabilities can specifically go for resources,” Bob said. “We’re always happy to chat with program participants or individuals looking for personalized resources as well as educators or community leaders looking for specific expertise.”