by LISA M. PETSCHE
In approximately one-quarter of American households, care is provided to someone age 50-plus. In most cases, family members and friends provide all assistance.
These unpaid helpers enhance the quality of life for ill older people who might otherwise require placement in a long-term care facility.
Typically, they are spouses or offspring, many seniors themselves.
The loved ones they care for have physical or mental impairment (perhaps both), caused by one or more chronic health conditions, with stroke and dementia being the most common.
The caregiving role involves physical, psychological, emotional, and financial demands. It can also be one of life’s most rewarding experiences.
The caregiving journey is often a long one and particularly challenging when the elder has heavy hands-on needs, a demanding personality, or mental impairment. Burnout is common.
The following are some considerations that you, as a friend or relative, can do to help prevent a caregiver you know from wearing down.
- Keep in touch. Accept that you may have to make most of the effort in maintaining the relationship. If you live at a distance or otherwise cannot visit often, regularly call to see how the caregiver is doing. Send a card or note to brighten their day, and include a humorous anecdote or cartoon clipping.
- Educate yourself about the care receiver’s disease, to help you understand the kinds of challenges the caregiver might be faced with.
- Listen non-judgmentally, demonstrate compassion, and don’t give unsolicited advice to the caregiver. You can’t really understand unless you’ve walked in their shoes, and, besides, no two caregiving situations are identical. Provide words of support and encouragement.
- Offer to accompany the person to a caregiver support group meeting if concurrent care is available or if they can make in-home respite arrangements; otherwise, offer to be the respite provider, so they can attend a group.
- Encourage the caregiver to practice self-care by eating nutritiously, exercising, and getting sufficient rest in order to maintain good health. Do whatever you can to help make it possible. For example, bring over a meal, or offer to sit with the care receiver while the caregiver takes a walk or takes a nap to catch up on lost sleep.
- Ask, rather than guess, what kind of practical help the caregiver needs most. Perhaps it’s dusting and vacuuming, doing laundry, or running errands. If your assistance is declined, continue to express your desire to help. Meanwhile, take it upon yourself to deliver a casserole or muffins or, if you’re a neighbor, sweep both walks or bring in both sets of garbage cans. Encourage the caregiver to ask for and accept help rather than go it alone.
- Surprise the caregiver with a treat, such as a magazine, a movie, fresh flowers or a plant, gourmet coffee or tea, or a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant that has takeout and delivery service.
- When it comes to special occasions, keep in mind that the most valuable gift you can give a caregiver is the gift of time. Offer to sit with the care receiver for an hour while the caregiver goes to a hair appointment or to a religious service, for example, or for a longer stretch, so they can attend a social event.
- If the caregiver is planning to host a party or dinner, offer to help with preparations or cleanup, or to attend to the care receiver during the event, so the caregiver can concentrate on hosting duties and mingle with guests.
- Offer to get information about community support services if none are in place, and encourage their use as appropriate.
Lisa M. Petsche is a social worker and a freelance writer specializing in boomer and senior health and wellness. She has personal experience with elder care.