5 ways to support the caregivers in your life
If you know someone who’s a caregiver, you may have noticed how challenging it can be. That can be especially true when taking care of someone with long-term needs.
Though caregivers may not ask for help, many often need it. They typically devote long, unpaid hours and rarely get a day off. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost one-third of caregivers provide care for at least 20 hours a week.1
Read on to learn 5 ways you can help support a caregiver in your life, whether it’s your parent, spouse, family member or close friend.
1. Be a good listener
Many people may not want to listen to what caregivers are going through. That’s because their stories are often hard to hear, notes Joy Loverde, a caregiving expert in Chicago and author of The Complete Eldercare Planner.
But, like everyone else, caregivers may need to vent. They may need to express their anger, sadness and frustration. For those reasons, being a willing listener can be a huge help.
“Listening isn’t always easy, but it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give a caregiver,” says Loverde. “Letting them talk about their feelings allows them to be heard. It’s a way to validate and respect what they’re doing.”
2. Take on some of the tasks
Caregiving tends to involve many tasks, which can sometimes overwhelm the caregiver. And sometimes, things fall through the cracks. You can help ease the burden by offering to do some chores or light errands. That might include picking up prescriptions, walking the dog or tending to the yard.
Be mindful that caregivers may often deny that they need help, even if they could use it. “It’s a rarity when a caregiver will tell you what they need,” says Loverde.
If that’s the case, look for ways you might be able to step in. The next time you visit, take stock of what may need to be done in the home, Loverde suggests. For instance:
- If there are dishes in the sink, clean and put them away.
- Laundry overflowing? Throw in a load.
If the caregiver lives far from you, consider ordering groceries or prepared meals and have them delivered to their home. Many caregivers also appreciate when someone brings over a homecooked meal or a special treat they like.
3. Give them a break
One of the biggest things caregivers may deal with is a lack of energy, both emotionally and physically. This can lead to caregiver burnout. Other signs of caregiver burnout include withdrawing from friends and family, depression, anxiety and sleep problems.2
Caregivers may feel like they don’t have time to take a break. Volunteering to sit with their loved one for a few hours gives them an opportunity for self-care. They may want to set up a massage or haircut appointment, listen to a podcast or watch a show. Or they simply might want a nap. “Many caregivers are depleted because they’re not getting enough sleep,” says Loverde. Giving caregivers time to catch up on some z’s, get to their doctor appointment or take a fitness class helps make sure they’re keeping their own health top of mind (which may often come last).
4. Research and share information
Caregiving can involve a lot of paperwork. Caregivers may need contact information for local caregiver support groups, respite care, certain government agencies or nonprofit organizations.
It can be tough for caregivers to break away from everyday tasks to gather everything on their own. You can help by tracking down the info they need. Not sure where to start? Check the Caregiver Action Network.
Present the information in an organized way. You’ll likely be ticking off a major item on their to-do list.
5. Stay in touch often
Calling, texting or stopping by in person are all key to showing your support. Caregivers tend to feel isolated and lonely,3 and reaching out lets them know they’re not alone.
When people feel socially connected and supported, they’re more likely to have better mental and physical health. They’re also better able to cope with tough times and recover from stress, anxiety and depression, according to the CDC.4
If the caregiver is feeling alone, you can help by finding another trusted person to stay with the caregiver’s loved one. That allows you and the caregiver to spend time together. Grab coffee, go out for a meal or catch that movie you’ve both been talking about. Whatever the activity, make sure it’s fun and relaxing to help the caregiver unwind.
Consider sending the caregiver a meaningful card, cute photo or funny video. These may seem like small gestures, but they can lift a caregiver’s spirits and keep them smiling. Whichever way you choose to contact them, letting them know you care can make all the difference in a caregiver’s daily life.
Caregiving can be physically and emotionally challenging. Showing up for a caregiver — tracking down information, relieving some of their duties or simply listening — can have a big impact. When caregivers get support to meet their needs, they’re able to give their loved one the best version of themselves — and the highest quality care they can offer.