There may be as many as 50 million caregivers in the United States today, so the odds are that we all know at least one person who cares for an older adult or someone else with special needs. And we all can help to care for the caregiver with little things that may not take a lot of time or even cost any money. These little random acts of kindness can both help the caregiver and help the person who depends on a balanced and healthy caregiver. What can the rest of us give to the caregiver?
1. Give the caregiver an excuse. Caregivers can get really caught up in the “have to’s” so that they do not even take a coffee break. Be their excuse to get away if only for the hour to share a cup of coffee and conversation with you.
2. Give the caregiver an ear. We often tend to focus on the older or special needs loved one with questions about “how is your mom?” The caregiver deserves a chance to just vent to someone who can empathize and not judge them as too hard on the “poor mom” who depends on them.
3. Give the caregiver some familial support. In most families one of the siblings has become the default (or conscious) caregiver, and in my experience it is mostly one of the daughters. Encourage a family conference either in person or on a call to discuss what everyone can do.
4. Give them something specific. It is really easy to just ask what one can do to help in a general sort of way, and caregivers may simply demure by asking for nothing. But if you are going to the grocery store and call to ask what you can pick up, they can tell you what is running low. Or if you are a neighbor, shovel their walk when it has snowed overnight without being asked. Be creative, but remember to be specific in your offers.
5. Give the caregiver some time off. Everyone needs a break, so volunteer for specific times or days so that the caregiver actually can make plans for something they need to do – hopefully for themselves.
6. Give the caregiver a reason to laugh. Most caregiving revolves around helping someone who is in declining health. Change the subject to something they will find more uplifting or something positive in their future. Optimism is a great antidote for the burden of caregiving.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.