“Let me know if you need anything!”
We’ve all said it. And we meant it. But how many times can you count that someone in desperate need has actually requested help? They usually don’t. That’s because in our society, we’re taught that asking for help is a sign of laziness and incompetence. We’re also taught that to ask for help, means that you are inconveniencing someone else. And no one wants to feel like a nuisance. But when you are caregiving, having help is critical. You need help to progress. You need help to rest. You need help to survive. If you’re not caregiving, then you know someone who is. Here are five things that you can do to support a caregiver, and contribute to their wellness, and to the wellness of their care recipient.
I recently met a caregiver who tearfully shared with me that she has not only gained weight, but also has developed high blood pressure and other health conditions, because she eats a poor diet. She said that she sought help from a nutritionist, but doesn’t have time to shop and weigh her food because she’s taking care of her visually impaired mother and her teenage son. She seemed ashamed to admit that she often buys dinner at fast food drive thru windows.
Caregivers shouldn’t be shamed for their health problems. And telling them to simply make lifestyle changes and to not “let” the situation stress them out, is as useful as singing “blah blah blah” for an hour. It’s just not helpful. Instead, feed them. If you’re cooking, make an extra couple servings for them. If you’re shopping, consider picking up some additional produce to drop off to them, like fruits and vegetables that can be eaten on the go. You can also offer to do their shopping for them sometimes. Even a bimonthly shopping trip can be helpful for a caregiver who is short on time. If you’re not a cook, have a healthy meal delivered to them. The key is to provide food that is immediately accessible and requires little to no preparation.
Listen to Them
Caregivers just need to vent sometimes. It’s incredibly difficult to juggle caregiving along with work and other responsibilities. Most caregivers are extremely competent and do what they do, because they love their care recipient. They aren’t looking to give up their responsibility. But they do need empathy, not necessarily opinions or black and white solutions. Caregiving is all about gray area. Sometimes they just need to express what a difficult weekend they’ve had, or rant about what mom did this morning. This is all healthy, and all those feelings are valid. And if you can listen without judgement, reassuring them that they are doing the best they can do, then that is more of a help than you’ll ever know.
Do the Driving
If its appropriate and you have a good relationship with the care recipient, offer to take them out. You may just drive them to a doctor’s appointment, or take them out to lunch or to a museum. The caregiver can use that time for respite. The care recipient also benefits by having some time outside of the home. Sometimes a bit of space between the caregiver and care recipient is needed so that they can both come back to each other refreshed and ready to continue along their journey together.
Be Willing to take on Surprises
Life would be better if bad things happened at precisely the right moments. But falls happen when no one is around. People get sick in the midst of the night when everyone is sleeping. You never can plan for these types of things. When you decide to support a caregiver, prepare for the long haul. When you offer your help, offer it when it’s most needed. If you can be available at 2am, then be available. If you can take a day off of work to help with a hospital admission, then do it. The goal isn’t to make unreasonable promises that can’t be kept. Instead, the goal is to make yourself available when help is most needed.
The work that caregivers do is grueling. There’s no other way to say it. Don’t downplay it. Be understanding. They can’t always convince the care recipient to do what is best. It’s a challenging process, and telling someone what you would do or what they shouldn’t do, doesn’t help. Asking them to force their family members to help or to give up caregiving isn’t helpful either. Take their word for it. It’s as difficult as they’re telling you it is. Don’t try to solve or minimize their concerns.
If you’re a manager and you know that one of your employees is a caregiver, be flexible. Be caring. Caregivers are the strongest people you will ever come to know. They are capable of being great employees, great parents, great spouses and contributing to their communities, all while taking care of someone. They do it everyday. They don’t want special treatment. But they do need flexibility that allows them to effectively manage their time.