According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, over 50 million Americans care for a loved one who is chronically ill, fragile from old age. If a person is caring for a spouse between the ages of 66 and 96, they are at a 63% higher risk of dying than people who are not caregivers. It is estimated that there is another 5.9 million families with a child with a severe disability, being taken care of at home.
Caregivers are at risk for self neglect, mental stress, physical exhaustion, no “me time” and burnout, which can lead to depression, anxiety and loneliness. Holidays are particularly difficult, but if you know someone who cares for a loved one, below are ten tips on how you can help throughout the year and make a difference in their lives.
1. Offer to stay with the family member, so they can make a hair appointment, grocery shop, or attend church. Even a 30 minute “respite” allows the caregiver to take a walk, shower, or have some alone time.
2. Tag team with a friend and one stay with the family member and the other take the caregiver to lunch or run errands. If the caregiver is reluctant to leave their family member, bring lunch to them.
3. Take a hot meal, or a frozen casserole that can be baked later. After someone dies, food appears out of no where. The living need to eat year round!
4. Call regularly, just to chat. Isolation and loneliness is common when a loved one becomes home-bound.
5. Help the caregiver maintain relationships, hobbies, and small pleasures. It is important that the caregiver has a life outside of caregiving. Give a magazine subscription, a book of inspiration, send a card, or email regularly.
6. Be a good listener. Most of the time, they are not seeking advice or answers, but only need to express their feelings.
7. Be ready to listen, as topics may include relationship issues, guilt, resentments, extreme sadness, or anger at God. Being supportive and non-judgmental by listening can usually get them past moments of despair.
8. If they begin to express feelings that “I can’t do this anymore,” strong feelings of hopelessness, or shows a decrease in coping skills, they may need to be guided toward professional help.
9. Recognize the difficulty of caregiving and acknowledge the hard work they are doing. Be encouraging and ask how you can help, or suggest they make a list of “things to do” and recruit friends to rake the yard, store summer patio furniture in the garage, or take them to appointments.
10. Research the condition or disorder that the family member has. This will give you a different level of understanding of the situation.
The lifestyle of a caregiver needs more attention and awareness from friends and relatives of the serious implications it can have on the family. The physical and emotional stress affects a person’s overall well-being. Giving the caregiver permission to enjoy life at times, even though their loved one is not, is sometimes enough to get them through a rough time.
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