Lending a caregiver a helping hand is something that many good friends and caring family members may want to do. Watching someone manage a delicate health situation with resilience can be inspiring and also encouraging. However, when looking to help a caregiver, you may be stumped as to know what to do and when to do it.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Ways to Help a Caregiver of a Cancer Patient
- Ways to Help a Caregiver of an Alzheimer’s or Dementia Patient
- Other Ways to Help a Caregiver in Your Life
Most people err on the side of not doing enough because they don’t have time or feel unsure about the best approach. Even if your life is busy or you live at a distance, there are valuable and thoughtful ways you can lend a helping hand to a caregiver. The most helpful approach is one that values and understands who the caregiver is and what the patient is going through.
Every caregiving situation is different and it changes through time in response to the condition of the person receiving that care.
Ways to Help a Caregiver of a Cancer Patient
The caregiver duties for cancer patients can seem like a never-ending list of tasks leaving a caregiver’s hands full in all sorts of ways. Caregiving for a cancer patient often involves medical tasks, emotional support and the stress of not knowing if the cancer will be cured. Not only do caregivers have to tend to their patients, they may be struggling with emotions and stress of their own.
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1. Educate yourself
Cancer is complicated and diverse. There are many types of cancer, different treatments, and prognoses. To be the best help to a cancer patient’s caregiver, you should know what the situation is. Here are some suggestions on how to educate yourself.
- Ask the caregiver to give you as much information as possible about the person they are caring for. Asking for this information shows that you care and have a genuine interest in the caregiving situation.
- Once you have information on the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis, go to reliable websites like the American Cancer Society, Cancer.net, and the National Cancer Institute to find out more about their client’s illness.
- Try to avoid giving advice or talking about unproven cancer treatments. Your role is to be supportive by being informed.
By making an in-person visit (assuming that you can), you will get a much clearer picture of not only the caregiver’s condition but the patient as well.
Notice how the caregiver is doing--do they seem stressed and tired. Is the house in disarray? How is the patient doing? A caregiver may paint an unrealistically optimistic or pessimistic view of the situation. Once you have a better picture of the situation you can help more effectively.
3. Offer relief
Offering relief can take many forms. It is sometimes better to provide specific tasks rather than to ask what you can do. By helping to tick off small tasks from a caregiver’s to-do list, you can let them focus on other parts of their job as a caregiver or give them a small breather.
Here are some suggested ways to offer relief:
- Pick up medications. This might seem like a small thing, but it is one less task for a caregiver.
- Shop for groceries and deliver to the home.
- Arrange for a housecleaning service.
- Offer to stay with the patient while the caregiver goes out to run errands or go for a much-needed walk. Make sure you know exactly what needs to be done and how to do it. Also, ask about any emergency procedures should a problem arise.
- Suggest that you can make calls to out-of-town family members to update them on the patient’s condition. For a caregiver, these calls can be very draining and time-consuming.
- If there are children in the home, offer to take them out for a while. It can be good for the children and one less thing for the caregiver to worry about.
- Ask to go to chemotherapy or doctor’s appointments. Sometimes it is nice to have emotional support during these visits.
- Arrange for a spa treatment for the caregiver while you stay with the patient and family.
4. Deliver meals
This tip has its own category because it is that important. Delivering dinner or lunch can be a huge help to caregivers. As a courtesy, ask about any dietary restrictions or preferences. You don’t want to deliver meat to a vegetarian! Also, inquire about the dietary needs of the cancer patient as well.
5. Reach out
If you live out of town or have other time constraints, there are different ways you can help. Schedule a time each week to reach out via text, phone, or email. Everyone has a preferred communication method, and the caregiver you want to support may not have time for a phone call but would welcome a text.
Some people don’t check their emails for days. Use the communication that works best. Even if you live out of town, you can have meals delivered or send small gifts.
6. Don’t forget the rest of the family
With all of the focus on the caregiver, sometimes the rest of the family gets left behind. Reach out to the spouse or partner to see how you can help. If an adult child is living at home, consider taking an interest in them as well.
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Listening to someone will tell you a lot more about how they are doing than talking to them. It is human nature to want to fill in the silences (which is OK some of the time) or give advice.
Give caregivers the emotional space to talk about their experiences and feelings. You might be amazed at how much you will learn and how healing listening can be.
8. Small gifts make a big statement
Not to overwhelm someone, but small, thoughtful gifts can have a big impact. For example, if someone is a tea drinker, you could surprise them with a high-quality tea or the same for a coffee drinker. Sometimes bright flowers can lighten someone’s mood and add sparkle to a room.
Ways to Help a Caregiver of an Alzheimer’s or Dementia Patient
It is hard to imagine what it is like to take care of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia unless you have had the experience yourself. As with a cancer patient, educate yourself about the disease process. Most Alzheimer’s and dementia is progressive in nature, so there is no cure and things get worse over time. There is no resolution or end to caregiving for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
With some education on the disease, you can provide some specific relief for a caregiver.
9. Offer respite
Some people with Alzheimer’s or dementia can’t be left alone. They can wander out of the house, fall, or leave the stove unattended.
You can offer to support the caregiver by staying with their loved one for a short time. But prepare yourself before you offer your services should you be asked to keep someone occupied and calm.
10. Run errands
Anything you can do that takes responsibility off the caregiver’s shoulders will be appreciated. Caregiving is a full-time job and so is the rest of life. Many caregivers have a hard time accepting help. Make it as easy as possible by simply pitching in or at the very least make it sound as though it is something you are doing anyway so it is no trouble for you. Some suggested errands and tasks:
- Grocery shopping and picking up medications
- Lawn, housework, and laundry
- Making meals and delivering to the house
11. Help a caregiver get organized
This is a case where you will want to be diplomatic and respectful. You don’t want to suggest that the caregiver is disorganized. Instead, see if you can engage the caregiver in a conversation about long-term care planning. A good question to ask is, “What will you do if you can no longer care for your mom?” A question like this might open up a discussion where you can be of help. For example, you can offer to look into memory care or respite services.
It is not unusual for families to be ill prepared for end-of-life planning. You can assist by helping the caregiver with advance directives and if necessary, finding an estate planning attorney. Even something as simple as devising a medication tracking or administration system can be a big help.
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12. Check-in on them
Caregivers can become isolated and lonely. Call or reach out in other ways to let them know you are thinking about them. Encourage other friends to do the same. People can drop off very quickly, especially if they are uncomfortable around someone with dementia.
Other Ways to Help a Caregiver in Your Life
Sometimes the little things can count for a lot. Aside from the practical tips we have given, there are other ways to help a caregiver in your life. Giving time to a caregiver in your life does mean taking time away from your life and responsibilities. Be mindful of this and you will reap the benefits of helping a friend in need.
13. Laugh together
Laughter has been studied a lot, and the findings are clear. Laughter helps relieve stress and promotes positive feelings.
Help the caregiver you know laugh by suggesting you both watch a funny movie or some silly Youtube videos. If you can get your caregiver friend to laugh, you have given a great gift.
14. Do activities together
Activity could mean playing cards, going for a walk or a spa treatment. Anything that is distracting and normalizing.
Perhaps you both have wanted to try yoga, so offer up an opportunity to take an online class together. One activity that is gaining in popularity is online meditation practice. You can both do this activity separately but talk about it later.
15. Just be friends
Sometimes people just need their old friend back. There is a familiarity between people that can get lost without consistent contact about regular things. Talk about what is going on with you, add a little gossip, or discuss the plans that you both have for the future.
Ways to Lend a Caregiver a Helping Hand
Now that you have some good ideas of lending a helping hand, plan your support. You might even want to schedule some of the tips we have mentioned here. Otherwise, life gets busy and before you know it, too much time has gone by. Show you care by being involved.