How to Help the Caregiver

This is the third in a series on caregiving, provided by my friend Barbara Shaffer. Part One of the series can be found here and Part Two here.

Trying to help the caregiver can create its own set of issues. There are many variables in any care-giving situation that can be hard for the would-be helper to navigate. Being clear about one’s ability and availability are ways to manage expectations, one’s own and another’s.

Helpers Should Understand Their Own Feelings

Before even beginning to offer help, the helper may struggle with guilt feelings about not being able to do more or with dread of having to do certain kinds of care they just don’t feel comfortable doing.

They may feel angst at the toll caregiving is taking on the family member or at the decline of the recipient of care. There may be a history of the caregiver and/or recipient guilt-tripping them or dumping anger on them. The helper would do well to talk to someone about these concerns so they can offer their help from a place of strength and, ideally, compassion.

Be Mindful Of Communication With The Caregiver

Woman leaning on the shoulder of another while they sit on a bench facing away from the camera courtesy of Transly Translation Agency/UnsplashOften when encountering someone who’s in distress or expressing negative emotions, we feel the need to make those emotions go away. We say things like, “Don’t say that,” or “That’s not true,” or “It’ll be all right. Don’t worry,” all of which shove the caregiver’s words and feelings right back down their throat. Not helpful.

It’s also not helpful to criticize what the caregiver is doing or to make unilateral changes and thereby disregard the needs and desires of the caregiver and perhaps the recipient as well. It’s not helpful to agree to help in a certain way but then disregard the schedule, the medication dosage, the diet, and/or other processes the caregiver has in place.

What might be helpful?

  1. Be clear about how much time you have to give. “I’m free next Friday morning from 8:00 until noon. What can I do to help?”
  2. Ask how to help. If the caregiver isn’t particularly good at answering that question, offer two or three things for them to choose from. “Could I do some laundry, weed the flower bed, or sit here while you take a nap?”
  3. While it’s difficult to listen to someone’s negative emotions, listen we must, not to fix or eliminate, but to be with the person in their pain and frustration instead of essentially pushing them away with platitudes that make us feel better. The ratio of listening to talking is clearly evident in our design: two ears and one mouth.
  4. Offer to go to appointments and take notes. Or offer to go to a first appointment at a new location and do the driving.
  5. Organize others to drive the recipient to treatments or to spend time with the recipient so the caregiver can tend to personal needs like medical appointments and check-ups, or have lunch with a friend, or go to church, or just take a nap without vigilance.
  6. Help keep bills organized or help fill out insurance forms or make phone calls.
  7. Encourage the caregiver and affirm their efforts.

The principles demonstrated in the above list are respect, practicality, and emotional supportiveness. Following these principles will give rise to other ways of helping in the varied scenarios of caregiving.

Barbara W. Shaffer, PhD, is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Pennsylvania. She has more than 40 years of experience and has helped many people manage stress in their lives, including many caregivers.

Want more of this?

This is one of three articles we sent to our subscribers this month. If you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll get additional content not found in our blog. Plus, the newsletter will be delivered to your inbox automatically. Subscribe Now