The month of November marks National Family Caregiver month – a time to acknowledge the hard work and important role that family caregivers play in caring for those who are sick, elderly or disabled. According to the Caregiver Action Network, more than 65 million people in the United States provide care for someone else, which may include preparing meals, managing medications, assisting with personal care, managing finances, and helping a family member or loved one with other daily life activities.
Most people know at least one caregiver. It might be a family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor who is balancing caregiving responsibilities with their own family and work-related obligations. You have probably noticed this person seems different lately; perhaps they’re not returning your phone calls or they’ve declined your offers for help. Caregivers are often under a significant amount of stress, and rarely reach out for help – even declining help when it’s offered – because they don’t want to burden someone else.
Here are some tips to help the family caregivers you know:
•Let your friend know that although you don’t know what it’s like to be in their situation, you would like to help in any way you can. Try to imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes and think about what type of assistance would be helpful for you. Or, if you have been a caregiver, consider the different tasks that you appreciated help with.
•When you offer to help, be prepared with a few specific tasks you would be willing to do, like walk your friend’s dog, take their kids to the park one evening, or pick up some groceries.
•When you call or make contact, realize they may not be able to talk as long as usual, but the caregiver likes knowing you’re thinking about them. It means a lot. If you stop by, bring something to brighten the caregivers day, like fresh cut flowers from your yard, a plate of cookies, or something as simple as a hug.
•Make a point to call before you visit and offer to pick up items from the store or pharmacy on your way over.
•Allow the caregiver to vent. Listen to what they say. You don’t need to have any answers to their frustrations; it helps them to share what’s on their mind.
•Bring in a meal for the caregiver and clean up afterward. Although they are making sure the person they’re caring for eats well, they are likely neglecting their own nutrition.
Often, simple things like kind, reassuring words can be a valuable source of support to a caregiver. They are dealing with stress, anger, pain and often daily changes which can be frightening. Words of encouragement may be just the fuel they need to keep going.
For more information on caregiver support and resources available to assist family caregivers, contact the Aging & Disability Resource Center of Central Wisconsin at 1-888-486-9545.
Submitted by Victoria Johns & Erin Johnson, Caregiver Support Coordinators with the Aging & Disability Resource Center of Central Wisconsin.