One of the most important responsibilities in caregiving is to be the sunshine in someone’s storm. It is far from easy, but I work with hundreds of women who do just that every single day.
Did you know that 65% of family caregivers are female? The average female caregiver provides up to 20 hours of unpaid care each week. Women provide the majority of informal care to spouses, parents, parents-in-law, friends and neighbors.
They also play many roles in caregiving: Hands-on health provider, care manager, friend, companion, surrogate decision-maker and advocate.
These women are nothing short of inspirational.
You probably are asking yourself, “What can I do to support the family caregiver?”
Here are a few tips:
Be a great listener. Caregivers need a listening ear. Sometimes they need to share their feelings about that challenges they are experiencing. Listen attentively. Be careful not to make judgments. You can lightly problem solve, but they are not expecting you to solve their problems. Just listen and understand them. Cards and encouraging words are appreciated.
Offer the gift of time. This is one of the most supportive things you can offer for the caregiver. They most likely have a list a mile long of all the things they need to do. Let them know that you are wanting to plug into their routine to help shoulder some of the responsibility. Perhaps bring a meal or snack over to their home. Offer to run errands or mow the lawn. Use your special gifts to help share in their workload. For example, if you enjoy grocery shopping, perhaps offer to pick up groceries for her when you do your shopping.
Give them space. Most caregivers need downtime and aren’t often in the position of taking it. Be sensitive that some of your invitations might be declined. Sometimes, caregivers are fatigued. Continue to keep them in the loop and perhaps offer to take them out for a special meal or to a movie. Think about the things they enjoy and schedule a short outing. One of the most important things you can do is make sure they understand that they are on your mind and that you are thinking good thoughts and sending consideration their way. On the other hand, be sure to be on the lookout for true isolation. This social isolation is not healthy for the caregiver.
Author Kristen Welch said it best: “We change the world when we simply meet the needs of another.”
What can you do today to help meet the needs of a family caregiver? If you venture out and try, you will never regret doing so.
Laura Nissen is a dementia specialist for Luther Manor Communities in Dubuque.