Caregiving is one of the most demanding yet thankless jobs in the world. Duties can range from medication management to helping with personal care, from part-time to full-time, and from paid to unpaid. Because injury, illness, and death are common human experiences, all of us have either been a caregiver or knows a caregiver. In fact, the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP estimated about 43 million people were caregivers at some point in 2015. It has been my privilege to experience caregiving both personally and professionally and those experiences have given me valuable perspectives and greater appreciation for the “normalcy” of life. Here are a few critical lessons I learned about caregiving:
1. Although caregivers are usually women, men may be caregivers and they need support as well.
2. Caregiving is not only limited to aging and dying parents. It also includes caring for disabled children, adult children, spouses, siblings, extended family, and neighbors.
3. Most importantly, caregivers need care too!
While November is National Family Caregivers Month, their tireless efforts deserve year-round caregiver appreciation. There could be times when the care recipient or loved one of the caregiver feels helpless and unsure how to make a difference. Even when asked, caregivers often say ‘no’ or they are unsure how you can help. However, small gestures may be more significant than you know. If you are looking for ways to support a caregiver in your life, I’ve put together a list of ideas to help you get started.
- Give permission to vent as the caregiver may experience guilt for having feelings of frustration, fear, anger, and sadness.
- Recommend caregiving support groups (in person or online).
- Encourage the caregiver to go to his/her own medical appointments. Some caregivers consider taking care of themselves as “selfish” or experience anxiety about their own symptoms and so, they avoid their personal appointments.
- Purchase gift cards to UberEATS/meal prep services or get others to chip in to prepare convenient meals.
- Run errands (e.g. pay bills, grocery shopping, take pet to vet, pick up prescriptions, take kids to activities).
- Offer your service by helping with house cleaning, house repairs, car maintenance, and yard work or offer gift cards for those services.
- Treat the caregiver to personal care services (e.g. barber/beauty salon, pedicure/manicure, massage). See if such services are available in-home.
- Offer in-home respite to give the caregiver a meaningful break.
- Be patient. There will be times when the caregiver is busy or tired and cannot answer calls/texts in a timely manner. Try not to take it personal if his/her tone is curt or out-of-sorts.
- Make care baskets (with snacks, water, socks, playing cards, inspirational reading, puzzles, pen, notepad) to be used in-home, during long appointment days or extended inpatient stays.
- Celebrate the caregiver by praising his/her personal achievements and roles outside of caregiving.
- Be the point of contact for emergencies to make calls to others so the caregiver is not tasked with making numerous calls.
- Be discrete with the information the caregiver shares. Don’t assume he/she wants everyone to know what was shared with you.
- Assist with navigating legal matters, if necessary.
- Be considerate: Don’t call the caregiver to dump your problems on them. Be mindful of unintentionally put more on his/her plate.
- Keep caregivers organized by maintaining a calendar of the caregiver’s appointments and important dates/deadlines.
In whatever way you choose to appreciate a caregiver in your life, know that your support is priceless.
With a warm heart,
~Dr. Q. Perry