When someone you know is caring for someone who is ill or requires help, small gestures of care and support can go a long way. But sometimes we struggle with what to say or do, so we end up doing nothing at all.
Family caregivers often have a hard time reaching out or asking for help. Not because they don’t want to; rather, they may be feeling overwhelmed or feel at capacity with managing their role as a caregiver and everything else in life.
Reach out… even if it feels uncomfortable
Most of us worry about saying the “wrong thing” or we might feel uncomfortable with watching or hearing someone else’s sadness, distress or anger. And that’s completely understandable; it’s normal to feel this way. A simple gesture of reaching out to a caregiver can make them feel much less isolated or “cut off” from the world. Reaching out can be as simple as, “I don’t really know what to say but I’m here for you. I’m happy to listen or get together.”
Listen without judgment or trying to fix a problem
Research shows that talking about a caregiver journey can help process the challenges and allow the caregiver to feel validated and heard. Listening without judgment is one of the best ways we can support a family caregiver. Often, this is enough for that person. You can let them know you’re open to hearing more about their situation by asking questions like “What’s your biggest concern about caring for your mom?” or “Would it help to tell me about what happened today with your son?”
When a caregiver is struggling or expressing their challenges, sometimes we want to help so badly, we jump in to solve the problems at hand. It’s important to allow the caregiver to be in a place where they are open to suggestions rather than assuming they want advice. Consider an approach such as, “Can I make a suggestion?” or “Do you want to hear about what helped in my situation?”
Ask to help in specific ways to what they need
Asking “What can I do to help?” opens the opportunity for the caregiver to accept help specific to their needs. You may end up making a meal, sitting with the person being cared for while the caregiver runs to do an errand, get their hair done, etc., or making phone calls to research and find resources.
Refer them to resources
Knowing what is available in your community or in the province can be a huge help. Family Caregivers of BC is here to help caregivers online, in-person and over the phone. You can reach out to us for more information or encourage the caregiver you are supporting to reach out to us.
By Wendy Johnstone, Gerontologist and a consultant with Family Caregivers of British Columbia in Victoria, BC (as seen in Inspired Living, August 2020)