Statistics says that ten thousand Baby Boomers are reaching the status of “senior” (age 65) every day. As they age, more and more family members will become caregivers – a task that is highly stressful, no matter how much you want to help a loved one.
What do caregivers need most? As a caregiver myself, I needed help and an occasional break from caring for my parents. I wanted sibling involvement in their care, help with decision-making, and emotional support. Cooking meals, help with chores, and time to de-stress were also beneficial.
With the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP reporting that about 43.5 million people have given unpaid care to an adult or child in the past year across the United States, it is clear that caregivers need to watch out for their own well being.
The issue of caregiving—with the exponential growth in the number of caregivers; the huge costs to society, families, and individuals; and the development of effective interventions to address caregiver burden and health—has become a public health priority of national concern.” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
My role as caregiver began with my mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis and continued for the next four and a half years after she passed, as I took care of my elderly father. While I found that caregiving was very rewarding, it was also very stressful on several levels. A caregiver is impacted mentally, physically, and emotionally.
7 Signs That Caregivers Need Help
As I mentioned, it can be tough for caregivers to ask for help for many reasons:
- Guilt (like me, you may feel guilty that you can’t take care of everything by yourself or that you are imposing on someone else)
- Being uncomfortable asking for help
- No time to research alternatives
- Unaware that there are resources that can help
- No money to pay for an outside caregiver
- Cultural concerns that keep you from seeking external help
- Living in an area that doesn’t have many (or any) resources that meet your specific needs
How To Ask For Help As A Caregiver
- Recognize that you need help
- Make a specific request
- Know that you will likely have to ask for help more than once
- Plan that your requests for help with be ongoing
Recognize That You Need Help
The first step in asking for help as a caregiver if recognizing that you need it. We often get into the day to day role of taking care of someone and just start managing things as they occur. It’s like constantly putting out fires, as the saying goes.
Caregivers frequently don’t have the time or brain power to think of alternatives. And when they do ask for help, it can either fall on deaf ears or the person being asked just doesn’t understand the need for it. “You seem to have things under control” is something I heard a lot.
This can happen for several reasons. Maybe you are just “hinting” that you need help, but aren’t specifically saying that you need it. Or it could be that the people you are asking aren’t capable of understanding just how much you want or need their help (or aren’t in a position to give it).
If you will be (or are considering) privately hiring a live in caregiver – please consider purchasing (for a low cost) the Live-In Caregiver Contract (Elderly) provided by FindLegalForms, Inc.
Make A Specific Request
When asking for help as a caregiver, be specific. Saying, “Jane, I need you to please take Mom to her cardiology appointment on Tuesday” is more likely to get a positive response. Don’t just hint by saying something like, “I’m so busy with Mom that I don’t know how I’m going to get her to her cardiology appointment.” In my case, I felt guilty about asking people directly for help, so when I dropped hints and they didn’t respond, it was even more frustrating for me.
Another tip is to plan ahead, if possible. You are more likely to get help from a sibling or friend if you request it in advance so they can free up their schedules.
Ask More Than Once
AARP recommends having a heart-to-heart conversation with the person from whom you are requesting help. Tell them your concerns and the reasons why you need help.
Get their suggestions for solving the problem and also let them know what would help you the most.
Next, ask what they can do to lend a hand. Maybe they can take your loved one to doctor appointments or are willing to do a little light housekeeping. Every little bit helps to give you a break.
Plan To Keep Asking
Human nature being what it is, you may get help once, but people probably won’t step up again unless you ask them. Also, the need for more help may increase if something changes. Additionally, friends or family members who aren’t involved day to day may not realize you could use continuing help, which means you’ll need to keep communicating your needs to them.
Things To Do For A Caregiver
- Offer the caregiver a break
- Pamper the caregiver
- Help the caregiver financially
- Take over research for the caregiver
- Don’t criticize the caregiver
Offer The Caregiver A Break – I was the only one near enough to help my parents. My only sibling lived four hours away. She came down roughly every two to three months for a weekend, which gave me a much needed break.
Being a caregiver is stressful, both emotionally and physically. It isn’t easy to maintain a cheerful attitude while handling someone else’s physical needs, setting up their medications, paying their bills, making sure they have food and supplies, taking them to appointments, etc.
If it is at all possible for you to give a family caregiver a break, please offer to do so. Even a couple of hours off will be beneficial.
If you aren’t in a position to sit with the person they are caring for, you can still do something to help: offer to walk their dog, pick up their groceries, mow the lawn, drive the person they are caring for to a doctor visit… there are a thousand different things you can do that will help take an errand or task off their plate.
Ask the caregiver to make a list, then you choose what you can do according to the time or resources you can give. If you aren’t in the same town, you can still do things like arranging for a meal delivery one evening so they don’t have to cook or hiring a lawn service to cut their lawn.
Senior Companion Programs – Encourage the caregiver to seek out help from senior companion programs like Eldercare.com or the many local and national programs that are available throughout the world.
Not all caregivers need someone to provide that level of care, though. Some may just need a helper to give them a little time to themselves or to run errands and do tasks that wouldn’t otherwise get done. For these situations, the solution may be to hire a companion, which is what Leslie Koc, a retirement coach in Bend, Ore., did for her husband, Tom. – nextavenue.org
Pamper The Caregiver – While she was here over a weekend, my sister always made a point to do something special for me. She often took me out to lunch or brought me things she knew I liked (chocolate, wine, my favorite flowers). She enjoys creating cool nail art, so once she arrived with the essentials for a pedicure, and then spent the afternoon spoiling me.
If there is a family caregiver in your life, try to think of a way to spoil them, too. Get them a gift basket with items to create a soothing bath or an essential oil diffuser to help them relax. The idea is that they become the important person for a short time. It’s a special sort of “thank you” that shows you care.
As another example, my dad once surprised me with a spa day. He told me I had been to my parent’s place so often and had given up a lot of my time, so they wanted me to know I was appreciated. That simple acknowledgement meant so much to me.
Help The Caregiver Financially – Family caregivers often have to quit a job or cut back their hours at work in order to care for a loved one. If they take a leave from work under the Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA), they won’t be paid. This can leave caregivers with a financial burden they didn’t plan for.
You can help ease that burden by contributing to your family member’s care (for instance, maybe siblings could split the cost of the caregiver’s grocery bill or pay for their gas).
If that isn’t possible because you aren’t in a position to do so, you can still do things to help with finances. Investigate options that may be available to your loved one: check into their state’s Medicaid program or the Veteran’s Administration’s Aid & Attendance Program if the family member who requires care is a veteran.
You also can set up a GoFundMe page or something similar. Those funds can be used to help pay the family caregiver or to pay towards the medical expenses of the ill or disabled person they are helping.
Take Over Research For The Caregiver – When my mom was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, I immediately went into research mode. For all of our sakes, I needed to know what to expect as her condition progressed so I knew the type of care she would require and whether we would need outside help. I also had to collect information on things like hospice services, what Medicare benefits covered, and make arrangements for products she would need as she illness worsened.
In the initial days after her diagnosis, I spent my days at work (full time), then ran to their house for the evening after work, and then spent my remaining free time doing research. It would have been immensely helpful to have had someone else look into some of it for me.
Most of the time, an illness strikes out of the blue, like it did for my mom. In that case, it can be a problem because you probably won’t know what to research and neither will the caregiver.
At a time like that, you could offer to look into some non-vital things – for example, if you know which religious community they belong to, ask if they would like you to set up a visit with a clergy member. Or ask if it would help if you built a list of nearby home healthcare agencies, then call them to find out their fees and services. Maybe you could check with your state’s Department of Aging Services to find out what services they would provide.
Think outside the box – if you were in this position, what would you want to know? Make a list, then ask the family caregiver to read through it and tell you which things would help them the most.
Things Not To Say To A Caregiver
When talking to a caregiver of a loved one (especially if you are close family, such as a sibling), choose your words wisely. Here are some things you shouldn’t say to them (and ways to say what you really mean, only better):
Don’t Criticize The Caregiver – I’m here to tell you, caregiving is tough. If you aren’t in the trenches with the caregiver, you don’t really know how hard it can be to watch a beloved family member fade away in front of your eyes or to be unable to live life the way they once did.
There are endless decision to make and innumerable “fires” to put out. Don’t criticize a caregiver because they are likely doing the best they can under the circumstances. Unless you are willing to jump in and help, please remember to be supportive instead of judgmental.
Don’t Say “You Should…” – Unless you are willing to take on some of the responsibility of the person’s care, do not offer advice. Saying, “You should…” puts the other person on the defensive immediately. You are also assuming that they haven’t already tried whatever it is that you think is a better solution.
Instead of saying, “You should…” offer praise for the job the caregiver has done thus far. In my mom’s case, my out of town sibling once told me I “should have” hired a part-time nurses aide sooner than I did because my father wasn’t as capable of helping Mom as we had hoped. The problem was, my sister didn’t have a job (except for some on/off part time work), while I worked full time plus I ran 80 miles round trips twice a week to help my parents. Sis only came down to see them every few weeks, so she wasn’t in the trenches and didn’t have to fight with my father, who wanted no part in having a stranger in his home. You can bet I got defensive when she said this because I was doing the best I could.
A better approach for her would have been to say, “You’re doing a great job, but I know you are struggling. Can I research a way to help Mom so we are sure she’s getting the help she needs without wearing you out?”
Don’t Say, “Put Your Parent In A Nursing Home So You Aren’t So Stressed Out.” – First, have you ever been to a nursing home? I am not putting them all down, but some can be places that will hasten a loved one’s death. Nursing homes are notoriously short staffed. I have been in some where residents were sitting in their own waste for hours, waiting for staff to help them because they weren’t mobile. In many cases, families hire their own nurses to attend a loved one in a facility because of staffing concerns.
Then, there is the cost. Nursing homes are very expensive and many families can’t afford them.
If you really want to be helpful to a caregiver who is stressed, offer to run a few errands for them – walk their dog, take their parent to a doctor’s appointment, grocery shop, clean the house, cook them a meal, sit with their parent… you get the idea. In short, actually be helpful!
Don’t Say, “I Could Never Put My Life On Hold Like You Have.” – Well, I like to think that anyone would put their life on hold for someone they love (although I know that sometimes it’s really not possible). The point is, saying you could never put your life on hold implies that your life is somehow more important than mine.
A better thing to say (especially if you are a family member) is something like, “You are doing so much for Mom and I appreciate it. How about if I skip Little Johnny’s t-ball game on Tuesday so I can cook for her and give you a break?” Offer a concrete thing that you can do (again – grocery shopping, cooking, taking the senior to an appointment, etc). Don’t just pay it lip service by saying, “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.”
Because – as a caregiver – I am probably too tired and stressed to come up with something you can do, but I would deeply appreciate it if you would just take one thing off my sky-high plate.