Adding hands to the Heart

Dear Reader,

Caregivers wear many hats. You can easily go from short order cook, to nurse, to taxi in the matter of a few hours. And that doesn’t include the time spent on case management related issues such as figuring out medical benefits. By the time you’ve learned what you need to know, you could probably go toe to toe with mosthead hands heart social workers. So much of your time is spent learning about and tending to your loved one’s condition that it can be difficult to find time for much else. And when you share your challenges (and sometimes frustrations) with friends and other family, they hit you with the old:

“Ok, well if there’s ANYTHING that I can do to help, you just let me know!”

That statement is more loaded than a baked potato at a steakhouse. It’s open ended, and provides little assistance where you’ve just acknowledged that, well, assistance is needed. We’ve all said it before, and we’re good people. We mean well. Sometimes we say it because we really aren’t sure what else to say or do for a person in a challenging situation. But as we evolve in our thinking and begin to understand caregiving as a common part of the life span, we should think about more concrete ways to be the “village”. The village is going to be a central piece in the success of the caregiving process. Villages come in all colors and numbers. But they all include individuals who each can contribute something to the care recipient and to the caregiver. So how about this?

“Would it be helpful if I (insert totally doable, reasonable task that you wouldn’t mind completing for the care recipient and caregiver)?”

Caregivers often feel guilt and stress when they have to ask for help. They don’t want to be a burden to anyone else. They aren’t looking for handouts. They just need support. So if you leave them with an open ended invitation for help, they may never ask even when they really need it. But if you ask, “would it be helpful if I dropped off dinner a few times a month?”, then a caregiver can determine whether or not that is help that they need.

Again, we all mean well. And we all have busy lives with work, family and social obligations. But it doesn’t take much to be helpful to a caregiver. You can simply think about tasks that you enjoy completing, or things that you do daily and offer to include the caregiver and care recipient. If you’re a cleaning fanatic (first of all, I bow down before you), then offering to do an hour worth of light cleaning is reasonable. Or if you enjoy playing cards and board games, perhaps you can offer to sit with the care recipient and play a game of checkers or chess while the caregiver gets some grocery shopping (or a massage) done. It really doesn’t take a lot to show that you care. Remember, only offer what is reasonable and doable for you. Even if it’s just a listening ear.

Keep taking care,

D. Southern

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