Whether you already know a caregiver or not, chances are, in your lifetime, you will probably know someone who will become a caregiver to a special needs child or to another family member due to trauma, sickness or aging. Or chances are you may become a caregiver yourself some day. It is very difficult to know what to do to help the caregiver, or what help for which to ask if you become one.
If you ask a caregiver what they need or how you can help them, more often than not, they will say they are fine, don’t know, or don’t need any help. They are not fine, truthfully they don’t know, and yes they need help and will continue to need help. All circumstances are unique to the situation, but there are some basics that are universally beneficial and helpful.
- Food: Everyone needs to eat. When under the tremendous physical and emotional stress of being a caregiver, good nutrition is even more important. However, shopping, meal preparation and cooking are yet more things “to do” on an already overburdened “to do “list. So, consider cooking meals that are easy to store and reheat in an oven, crock pot, or on the stove. And no matter what your famous recipes are, make sure it is a meal that will work for the caregiver and/or the rest of their family.Another way to help is to insist on the caregiver giving you their shopping list, and be dependable enough to shop for them if that is what they prefer. Calling them and saying you are on your way to the grocery store and asking if they need you to pick up anything will usually be met with nothing to add to your list. But if you tell them that every week you will do their shopping and have them keep a list handy of what is needed, you can make life easier for them. If you can’t go every week for them, then set up an interim shopping schedule even if you only help every other week or once a month. Whatever you do, whether it be cooking and delivering meals or doing the marketing, just make sure you are consistent with your commitment.
- Hands-On Help: The needs of the patient will vary by issues and age. But caregivers will usually have a very set routine for the “normal” days. Although you may wish to help, very few patients can be left with a friend or family member that is not familiar with all that is needed by the patient for the time you are offering to help. If you call a caregiver and say you can stop by to give them a break, although your care and concern are much appreciated, in actuality, it may not be practical or wise. So, if you really want to help someone who is a caregiver, first spend time going to the home often and shadowing the caregiver until you know the routines and feel comfortable for the set amount of time you may be left alone with the patient. This enables the caregiver to feel at ease entrusting their loved one to you so they can do whatever else they need or want to do. Again, be dependable and consistent in the level of help and time you are offering.
- Night Shift: Caregiving is often a 24/7 event. Some patients are active and needy during the night as well as during the day. Sleep for the caregiver is so very important. But broken sleep every few hours can severely compromise their health over time. If you want to give someone a night of unbroken sleep, volunteer to sit with the patient as many nights as you can offer to do so. Again, establish a schedule or routine of when you will volunteer your time so that the caregiver knows when a break is coming. And remember, you should be familiar with the night time routine of the patient so not to have to wake anyone and defeat the purpose of you being there.
- Stay Connected: If you are not able to bring meals, do the shopping, learn hands-on care, or spend a night, you can still stay connected with the caregiver. More often than not, they feel isolated. They will often be tired and/or sad, but it does not mean they still don’t enjoy the love, support, and good conversation with other family members and friends. Your phone call or visit may be the best distraction they get in any day or other time period. Knowing the best times to call or visit is important. It should be done at the caregiver’s convenience and not at yours. You can also just send a card to let them know you are thinking of them. Ask if the caregiver prefers emails or texts, with the understanding it may be sometime before you get a response. Again, find out what is preferred and then follow through with doing it.
- Outings: If the caregiver would like an occasional outing, find out what is necessary to do so. Will you take the patient? Would the caregiver like to go out with the patient but can’t manage an outing alone however could do so with someone to help? Would the caregiver like to just go out with you, but then alternate patient care must be arranged? Or would the caregiver like to go out while you cover for them? Whatever is desired, assist in making this come to fruition if you are able to do so.
Being a caregiver, in any capacity, from lower level to high end 24/7 care, is not for the faint of stamina or spirit. Help the caregiver sort out their needs and preferences, and then do what you can, when you can. Caregivers and all the helpers must be flexible as needs and preferences change, but if you do commit to help, remain as dependable and consistent as possible.
I want to thank all my very special “HELPERS” during my time as a caregiver. They know who they are. I could not have done it without their support, help, and love.
Wishing you health, living your best life, and stating my admiration and respect for all the caregivers currently in the trenches.