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Family & Relationships

4 Ways You Can Help A Caregiver

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Jed Levine likens the experience of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia to an ongoing mourning process: the person is there, but parts of them are fading. “It’s very painful,” he says.

“Caregiving can feel all-consuming,” adds Levine, who is president and CEO of CaringKind, an organization that supports individuals and families caring for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. He says that across many cultures, there’s a shared feeling of “we take care of our own.” Because of that, caregivers often struggle with asking for help, even though they’re feeling stressed about their roles. According to the report, “Caregiving in the US” by the AARP Public Policy Institute and The National Alliance for Caregiving, about half of those caring for a person with Alzheimer's or dementia reports feeling emotional stress.

“When you have a disease where it feels like there’s no end in sight, the unrelenting pressure and the sense that no matter what you do you’re not going to escape this — I think people don’t understand the burden of that and how draining it may be after a while,” says Levine. If you have a friend or family member in that position, you might have wondered what you can do to help.

Levine shared these tips on how to support a caregiver:

Be specific when offering to help. While a phrase like “let me know if you need any help,” may indicate that your heart is in the right place, it also puts the onus on the caregiver to involve you. Rather than a generic offer, Levine says to come up with specific tasks you can help with. Have a conversation with the caregiver and find out, in detail, what they need. Perhaps they miss going to the gym, or they’re unable to get to a religious service that’s important to them. Maybe they’re struggling to cook nutritious meals and would benefit from you dropping off lasagna or baked chicken. “Find out exactly what you can take off their plate, in order to make a real difference,” offers Levine.  He says that knowing what’s needed is helpful to both parties. “It gives the friend or family member something to do, and you know it’s going to be helpful because it’s something the individual is asking for,” he says.

Listen. Levine says that some people are uncomfortable hearing about what’s happening with the care recipient. Because of that, it’s even more important that the caregiver has a sounding board. Be a good listener to your caregiver friends. “People want to be heard. People want to be understood,” says Levine. Suspend your judgement and don’t offer advice, he adds. “Just listen and be supportive.”

Offer to attend appointments with the caregiver. If you think your caregiver friend would be comfortable with it, offer to accompany him or her to an upcoming appointment, whether it’s to see a doctor, an accountant, a lawyer or visit a potential residence, like a nursing home or assisted living facility. “Sometimes it’s good to have another set of eyes and ears or another scribe so that you can then review what the doctor or the lawyer or the accountant said,” says Levine. Acting as a caregiver can feel isolating. By offering to join them on outings and talk about what transpires, you may help them feel less alone.

Take them out to do something fun. Levine says that caregivers are often so preoccupied with all of the things that need to be done for the care recipient, they forget about being social and letting loose, even if briefly. Think about the kinds of things your friend enjoys doing, like seeing a movie, dining out or going to the mall, and ask if they’d like to join you in doing them. “I think that’s something that’s very helpful to caregivers, because the caregiver might not be thinking of it themselves,” says Levine.

One of the challenges that caregivers face is they often forget to care for themselves, says Levine. You can play an important role by being there for them when they need it most. 

Do you know a caregiver who needs help? CaringKind offers a 24-hour Helpline: (646) 744-2900.

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