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5 Major Ways to Support a Family Caregiver

If you’ve never been a primary caregiver, responsible for the needs of another person twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, you can’t even begin to understand how difficult caregiving can be. Caregiving often requires a person to set aside their own personal life and dreams for an unspecified amount of time in order to devote all their time, energy and, sometimes, resources to ensure that someone else’s needs are met.

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, a caregiver (informal caregiver as opposed to the professional paid caregiver) is “an unpaid individual (for example, a spouse, partner, family member, friend or neighbor) involved in assisting others with activities of daily living and/or medical tasks.” According to a survey taken by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP in 2015, 34.2 million Americans provided unpaid care to an older adult in the previous twelve months. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 15.7 million of those caregivers had the demanding task of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia. Since that time, those numbers have increased.

Once a person requires the assistance of a caregiver, they generally need it for long periods of time. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, the average duration a caregiver is needed is four years; however, 24% of caregivers provide care for more than five years and 15% for ten years or more. In situations where a caregiver provides ten or more years of care, they usually provide more hours of care per day than the typical caregiver as well.

Many caregivers, especially family caregivers, often give beyond what they are able. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, the average age of a caregiver who provides care to some who is 65 years old are themselves 63 years of age, typically caring for a spouse or partner. Due to the stress and demands of caregiving, one-third of these caregivers report being in fair to poor health themselves.

This means a lot of people are selflessly giving of themselves to care for another and desperately need help and support.

Ways to Support a Family Caregiver

Caregivers often find themselves receiving “help” that does not meet the kind of assistance that they really need. Well-intentioned people offer what they think is needed – phone numbers for additional services or advice or even a meal that can be placed in a freezer – without really knowing for sure. Their intentions are good, but without knowing what is really needed, their “help” often falls short.

To make a genuine difference, efforts to help the caregiver need to be personalized to the caregiver’s preferences, personality and circumstances. This means that someone wanting to help may need to do a bit of investigation to determine what the true needs are. It may also require a willingness to do difficult, time-consuming and unpleasant tasks to truly meet the need and make a difference.

#1 – Get Past the Phrase, “I’m Fine.”

“How are you?” – these words are often treated as a greeting; and as such, receive a perfunctory response of “Fine.” Caregivers often reply with the same response, although everyone close to the situation knows that it’s far from the truth. They may use it as an automatic response themselves and don’t consider it to be more than a greeting; but often, they are too tired to talk about it or afraid if they do talk about it, they’ll start crying and, therefore, choose to avoid a less than automatic response. Oftentimes, a one-word response such as “fine,” is so much easier than explaining how they really feel.

Most people accept this response because they don’t want to pry. But this typical exchange doesn’t provide any emotional support. Instead, consider letting them know that you understand caregiving is hard and that you’re available to talk to them when they want or need by saying something like, “I’ve heard other people say how hard caregiving can be and I see how hard you work. If you ever want or need to talk, I’m here for you. Just give me a call.” They probably won’t open the first time you tell them this or even the second time. However, if you periodically remind them of your availability, when they’re finally ready to talk, they’ll know you’re there for them. When they finally make the call, do everything in your power to be available for them … they may not find the courage to open up a second time if you aren’t available.

#2 – Wait and Listen

Sometimes we all need to talk about things. Things that bug us; things that irritate us; things we don’t like. We aren’t looking for advice or answers – we just need to get it off our chest. When we do, we often feel better. Caregivers are no different. Sometimes they just need to have a safe place to vent without judgment. At these times, a true friend will be there to listen to them as they pour out their souls. It’s important that you be an active listener.

Additionally, don’t feel that you have to offer advice. Unasked for advice can be interpreted as being intrusive or criticism of how they are doing things. Be a comfort to them, providing emotional support. Wait to provide any advice until they ask for it. Then, share a few tips with them, but don’t try to overhaul the way they’re doing things. Just because you wouldn’t do it exactly as they are doesn’t mean they’re doing it wrong – just different.

Just be there for them as a friend and confidante. Share more love, hugs and tears than advice.

#3 – Give the Gift of Time

So many times, caregivers are so invested in providing for the needs of others, they have no time for themselves. They don’t have time for the things they need to do for themselves, much less what they want or would like to do. Basic things like reading a book, going to the salon, catching up on sleep or even cleaning their own home often fall by the wayside. Give a caregiver you know the gift of time – your time. Offer to provide caregiving in their stead so they can take a break. You can do this for as little as a few hours to a day or more at a time. Doing this on a consistent basis gives them something to look forward to and plan for.

#4 – Be Willing to Do What Really Helps

Many times, hands-on help is the greatest need you can meet. Ask them what task you can do that would be most beneficial and helpful to them. Depending upon personalities, we each have different needs, therefore, what you think would be most helpful may not actually help them in their circumstances. So, ask them what you can do that will help most and be willing to do it for them, no matter what the task may be. Cleaning toilets, doing the laundry and washing the dishes may not seem that helpful, but in the end, they’ll be comforted knowing that you care enough to help where it’s needed most. And, you’ll know that you made a real difference.

#5 – Respite Care

Respite care is an invaluable tool for a family caregiver.  Care providers can all benefit from a break from caregiving responsibilities, returning to them with a renewed energy and spirit after spending time taking care of their own needs. Respite care gives the caregiver time to do such activities as:

  • Rest and recharge
  • Reconnect with family and friends
  • Take a vacation
  • Enjoy a hobby or read a book

As already mentioned, you can provide the respite services yourself; however, you can also arrange for respite care at a senior community. When respite care is provided at a senior community, such as Havenwood Heritage Heights, not only does the caregiver get a break, but the care recipient receives attention in a safe and stimulating environment during that break.

Respite care gives the caregiver an opportunity to recharge and regroup. It gives them their life back for a short period of time allowing them to focus entirely on their needs. This makes it possible for them to relax, knowing that the care recipient is safe and well cared for. After the respite break, they return to their caregiving duties refreshed and recharged.

Ready to arrange some respite care in Concord, NH? Contact our friendly team online today.

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