Caregiver burnout and exhaustion are common consequences of taking care of a loved one. The population is aging, and families are expected to do more and more for the people they care about. Caregiver duties have become more complex and demanding. Chances are you are a caregiver yourself, or there is someone in your life who is.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Care for a Partner or Spouse Who’s a Caregiver
- How to Support Another Loved One Who’s a Caregiver
- How to Show Appreciation for Your Loved One’s Caregiver
More and more caregivers are also caring for someone who has dementia—up from 22% in 2015 to 26% in 2020. Taking care of someone with dementia is particularly stressful and time-consuming. All ages and ethnic groups are family caregivers, and some people are turning to professional caregivers to provide respite and relief.
Even if you are at a distance from someone you know who is a caregiver, there are ways you can care for them. Even the small gestures can mean a lot, but someone will especially appreciate practical tasks. We have some ideas on ways to care for the caregiver in your life.
How to Care for a Partner or Spouse Who’s a Caregiver
A partner or a spouse could be caring for their parents, a friend, or a relative. The intensity and time they devote to caring for a person close to them will depend on several factors. If one or both of their parents need care and they are the only adult child in the area, it could be very time-consuming, intense, and overwhelming.
Or, your partner or spouse could have a sibling that is diagnosed with cancer or a terminal disease. If your partner or spouse is working as well as caregiving, the situation is even more stressful. Regardless of the circumstances, there are ways you can support your partner or spouse.
1. Learn as much as you can
It is challenging to care for a partner or spouse who is a caregiver if you don’t know what they are going through. Learn about the condition of the person they are taking care of so you will better understand how you can help. If a parent has dementia, learn about the symptoms and behaviors of dementia. If a sibling is undergoing chemo, learn about what is involved. Being educated shows you are interested and that you care.
2. Be a sounding board
Ask questions and listen to your partner or spouse. They might be keeping emotions under control but need to talk about what they are going through. Old emotional conflicts with parents can resurface during caregiving, and it can be a relief to talk about those. Feelings such as anger, grief, and frustration are normal. Make yourself available to your partner or spouse when they need you to listen. Be open, flexible, and compassionate.
3. Be willing to assume household or other duties
If you and your spouse typically share household tasks equally, you may need to step out of your comfort zone and assume some additional responsibilities. For example, if your wife is the caregiver and has always taken care of shopping and cooking, you can take on that responsibility to give her some relief.
Couples often settle into specific roles and routines, but sometimes, you may have to take on a larger share of the burden. Be brave and assume some unfamiliar duties that can help take the pressure off of your partner or spouse.
4. Let your partner or spouse know you are available to help
Spouses and partners can be very sensitive to acknowledging that they need help. Caregivers, in general, want to do the best they can and often assume too much responsibility. You might have to be sensitive to their need for control. Let your partner or spouse know you are available to help in whatever way they need. If you see an opportunity to assist, offer to do so. And if they say no, then accept that, too. Pushing may have the opposite effect and create more resistance.
5. Bury the hatchet
Let it go if you have had a problematic relationship with the person your partner or spouse is caring for. Now is not the time to let those feelings interfere with your support. Bringing up old conflicts is not helpful. If you need to talk about the relationship, speak to a friend or counselor.
6. It’s the little things
Thoughtful gestures of care can make a big difference. Something as simple as a note with flowers saying you know how hard this is. Or get your partner or spouse’s favorite take-out meal or a movie they have wanted to see.
How to Support Another Loved One Who’s a Caregiver
You probably have another loved one who is a caregiver. It could be a sibling, aunt, uncle, nephew, or cousin. The fact that they may not live close to you or are someone you don’t see often doesn’t mean they can’t use some support. Chances are they will appreciate any effort you make.
7. Stay in contact
Stay in consistent and regular contact with another loved one who is a caregiver. Only by talking with them and finding out how things are going can you offer support. Call or text just to check in and see if you can help. Ask how they are doing and allow them plenty of space to express their feelings. Send a card or note on occasion to let them know you’re thinking of them.
8. Encourage self-care
Self-care can be tough for any caregiver. Respectfully reminding a loved one who is a caregiver to take care of themselves might help. If you know about a particular activity they enjoy, offer to give them a break from caregiving while they engage in something fun or healthy. Drop off some nutritious meals or small practical gifts like a nice water bottle or gift certificate for a pedicure or massage.
9. Ask what you can do
Ask how you can help, but offer practical tasks if there is the opportunity. Do the grocery shopping, pick up prescriptions, or do housework. A caregiver needs to find additional resources like assisted living, insurance information, private caregiving, or medication pricing in many cases. Offer to do the research for your loved one. Make some suggestions and see what sticks!
10. Ask to visit the person being cared for
If possible, ask if you can visit the person that your loved one is caring for. If that person is very ill and isolated, a visit will be beneficial. You can give the caregiver a break and spend some valuable time with that person.
11. Suggest respite care
Caregivers often have trouble turning care duties over to someone else. Some suggestions to help are time-limited private duty caregiving to give someone a break. Adult daycare might be an option for alternative care. If your loved one is caring for someone with dementia, suggest a few nights of respite care in a memory care facility. Most assisted living communities dedicate a furnished room for short-term stays for this purpose. Offer to visit the person in respite care and manage things while your loved one is away.
12. Offer to provide transportation to doctor’s appointments
Caregiving usually involves transporting someone to doctor’s appointments. Offer to step in and provide that service. Taking a person to doctor’s visits is very time-consuming, and offering to do that task will be appreciated. Make sure you know what questions to ask and take a notebook for writing things down during the visit so you can give a detailed report.
How to Show Appreciation for Your Loved One’s Caregiver
Whether your loved one is cared for by a family member or professional caregiver, acts of appreciation can make a significant difference in the life of a caregiver. We have some suggestions on ways to show your gratitude, and you will likely think of others as well.
13. Say thanks
In the chaos and complexities of caregiving, saying thanks is often overlooked. Verbalizing thanks is helpful, but a card that expresses how much you appreciate the caregiver may have an even greater impact.
When a caregiver feels down or overwhelmed, having a card is a valuable reminder of a job well done. If your loved one’s caregiver is a family member or friend, let them know that you appreciate the time they’ve given in caring for your loved one.
14. Gift cards
A professional caregiver will appreciate a gift or gas card. Caregivers pay for their own gas to get to a client’s home. If you choose to do a general gift card, try not to make the card usable only at a specific place. An Amazon or Visa card will be more appreciated.
15. Stock the fridge
A busy caregiver often doesn’t have the time to shop, and when they do, they are in a hurry.
Buy healthy groceries and snacks and stock the fridge. If the caregiver can freeze some items, all the better since they can use them when they are ready.
16. Supplement the income of a professional caregiver
Professional caregivers generally don’t make much money. Agencies discourage families from supplementing a caregiver’s income on their own but welcome additional hourly increases through the agency. Not only are you showing your appreciation, but you also have a greater chance of keeping a good caregiver.
17. A pamper basket
Caregivers often neglect their health and wellbeing. A self-care pamper basket (and yes for men, too) can be a thoughtful way to show your appreciation. Include lotion, aromatherapy products, essential oils, a sleep mask, calming tea, a throw blanket, and a spa certificate for a service of choice. Use your imagination and be creative.
18. Home services
Purchasing a home service for the caregiver of a loved one can take a big load off. For example, a house cleaning service, yard service, or home meal delivery service can be helpful. Getting the caregiver’s car washed or detailed or a scheduled oil change is another idea. It isn’t necessary to consider these as ongoing gifts, but short-term to help the caregiver get things under control.
Caring for Caregivers
You may be a caregiver for a loved one and at the same time have others in your life that are caregivers, too. Appreciation for what can sometimes seem like a thankless job shows you care. Use our suggestions as a guide. The important thing to remember is that every caregiver needs support and you can help.