Caregivers for aging or ill family members have a difficult and exhausting task. Often, they can neglect to care for themselves adequately during this time. Most importantly though, they need the love and support of their family and friends while tackling this difficult job.
If you know someone who is a caregiver, here are some things you can do to help:
- Ask how they are, and ask how the situation is. Caregivers can feel isolated because people are afraid to inquire as to their loved-one’s health. It’s important that you acknowledge what they are going through and ask what is going on and how they feel about it.
- Let the caregiver vent. They are experiencing a lot of issues they may not be able to address with the person they are caring for. When they talk to you about these things, be encouraging, but don’t be too quick to offer solutions, they need to talk it out.
- Let them know you will be there for them no matter what. While someone is being a caregiver, they usually don’t have the energy to focus on their other emotional committments. This can be very hard for all concerned, and produce guilt in the caregiver. Just as being a caregiver may be the hardest thing they ever do, supporting a caregiver may be the hardest thing you ever do. Try to be understanding, turn to your friends for support, and most importantly be clear about your emotions and needs, so that things can get resolved more quickly.
- Household chores. While being a caregiver it may be hard to keep up on basic household chores. Offer to help out with organization, cooking meals or some other activity important to supporting the caregiver and family.
- Medical bills. Navigating the waters of insurance companies is nightmarish and can be especially emotionally draining for a caregiver. If you’re good at numbers or patient with beaurocracy and are especially close to those involved in the caregiving situation, offer to help with this.
- Family support. Other members of the family who are not the primary caregiver may feel isolated and helpless. Reach out to them, socialize with them, provide some much needed distraction.
- Watch out for the caregiver. Make sure the caregiver remembers to sleep enough and to eat. Make sure the caregiver takes time off once in a while to recharge their batteries. Researching and/or arranging respite care and encouraging the caregiver to take some time for themselves is critical.
- Don’t let your support end when the caregiving is over. Often caregivers need even more support after the caregiving process is over. Don’t expect everything to go back to normal just because the crisis has passed.
- Don’t be excessively cheery all the time. Fake behavior can really be irritating, eventhough it is meant well.
- Remember that dealing with serious illness involves a grieving process, even if the patient recovers. Realize the caregiver may have emotional swings or get angry at those who are providing support. Often these emotions can seem illogical to someone more removed from the situation but are very valid and necessary to the caregiver. You can’t take anything too personally during this time.
- Some caregivers may try to push those offering help away. Be patient with this, and persistant. Don’t go against the wishes of the caregiver, but also make it clear that the offer stands. There are no rewards for insisting on caregiving alone.