With advances in medicine, people are living longer than ever before. Many times, family members become caregivers for their relatives, whether it is a parent, sibling or extended family. Caregivers often take on a huge burden to provide daily care at the expense of their own lives. As a primary care provider, we know the kind of daily needs their family member has, and they can often be overwhelming. If you have a friend who is a family caregiver, here are some ways you can give them a hand and brighten their day.
Offer to help
It’s not always easy to ask for help, even when desperately needed. Many times caregivers don’t want to impose on others or fear rejection. They usually know that friends and family members want to help, but don’t know how to ask. If you’re looking for ways to support a family caregiver, here are some ideas:
- Set aside one-on-one time to talk to the person. It may feel overwhelming to talk about ways you can help in the middle of busyness, so ask the caregiver if you can meet up with them when they have a few quiet minutes.
- Ask if they have a list of caregiving needs that others could help with. If not, encourage them to draft something so it is easier for others to pitch in when needed. If they can put specific needs on paper, you can jump in and help lighten their load.
- Offer other ways to help. If you see a need, ask if you can fill it. Maybe it is a few hours of laundry or bringing in a hot meal. They may not think to ask for many things you can help with!
Let them know you are there for them
Many times, caregivers have full days with little time for themselves. Make sure they know that you want to spend time with them, but don’t be offended if they don’t have the time or energy to visit with you. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to be invited; they may just not be up for it. Don’t hound your friend with invitations you know they can’t accept, but keep them in the loop for events they could conceivably attend. It is always nice to be remembered, so keep it positive and offer to help them with logistics to make it possible.
Keep it positive
Many times, it is tempting to share anecdotes or horror stories of people you knew or read about. You may feel that you are just conversing about the topic, but these stories will only increase the caregiver’s feelings of guilt and worry. Additionally, don’t second guess or judge the caregiver’s actions. They are likely making the best choices they can and are already plagued with tons of “what ifs”. What they do need are offers of help, words of encouragement, uplifting stories and someone to listen when things get hard.
Help them find resources
It’s hard to go it alone, and harder to ask for help. There are a number of organizations that support family caregivers and help them with their needs. Here are several resources you could share with a friend or family member who has just become a caregiver:
At Oregon Health DPC, we see many caregivers coming in with their families, and we honor them for the need they fill. If you are a caregiver and need additional resources, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at 503-506-8500.