When a senior loved one receives a diagnosis such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, ALS, Parkinson’s, or other progressive health conditions, a life-altering journey begins. The one receiving the diagnosis must process what may come, while the family must work through their own emotions and decide quickly what course of action would be best suited for their loved one.
As another relative or close friend to the senior and the rest of the family, it can be difficult to know what to do to help. It can be daunting at first, but we’ve mapped out some of the best ways to help a family caregiver that are guaranteed to make a difference.
Listen Attentively to the Caregiver
Allowing the caregiver to vent and communicate their personal feelings is a good way for them to let out any pent up emotion or stress associated with caregiving. They may not need you to help them solve a problem, but just lend them an ear.
Listening and paying attention to everything they are saying will show them that their feelings are valid and important. If they keep themselves too bottled up, it could make their distress worsen over time.
Some conversations can get difficult, and it’s normal to not really know what to say. Offering short comments and responses is likely sufficient to show them you are not only listening, but doing so actively.
Save any judgment for a different discussion. You are not walking in the same shoes they are, and will want to save negativity for another time if they are already voicing their frustration or sadness. Unless the situation becomes dangerous for the caregiver or the senior loved one, then speaking up about concerns you see on your side of things is likely justified.
Offer the Best Gift: Time and Space
There are two approaches that always work and also won’t cost you a dime. You can either offer your time for venting or assistance with a task, and space when they need some respected time alone.
By just asking them, “What can I do to help?”, you’ll be opening the door for support. It isn’t always easy to know exactly what the caregiver may need, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.
If the caregiver doesn’t know at first how you can help, some ideas that you could throw their way include:
- Cooking a meal
- Running an errand, perhaps pick up groceries
- Giving a ride to a doctor’s appointment
Just be sure to not over-promise or offer something you can’t follow through with. If their response is that they don’t need any help, they will still be appreciative of the thought – more than you think.
Find a Way to Include the Caregiver
When a family member takes the role as caregiver for a senior loved one, they are not only sacrificing time for themselves, but time for friends and other relatives they enjoy seeing. It may not be as easy for them to leave the house or get out, which can lead them to feeling lonely and isolated. Don’t feel neglected if the caregiver gives out numerous invitation declines, and don’t feel like you have to stop asking.
Keep them in the loop and throw out invites that can more likely be accepted. Even if you know they have the free time and decline, they may just need that time to be alone or rest. It’s important to realize that and respect it.
If you want to make the caregiver feel more included, offer visiting them or arranging a group gathering at their home, given they are able to accommodate a crowd and won’t feel overwhelmed. If you are suggesting two or more people, offer to help with preparations.
Taking the caregiver out of the house can be something to work towards as well. They spend a significant time in one place, and by suggesting an outside activity accompanied with backup care, they can have an easier way of getting some away time. Suggest a break for a walk, brunch, or other relaxing activity that will be something they can enjoy without worrying about their loved one being taken care of.
All You Can Do Is Try
Unless you someday find yourself in the position as a family caregiver someday, you won’t truly be able to understand exactly what they are going through. This makes it sometimes hard to know where to start when offering help. Don’t feel discouraged, and just keep them in your thoughts and engage with them.
Abnormal behavior, sleeping patterns, and eating habits can all be signs of burnout, or the complete and overwhelming mental and physical exhaustion associated from caregiving. Pay attention to the health of the caregiver. As a close friend or family member, you should know what to look for in the event of caregiver burnout.
Times can get tough, but you can remind the caregiver how strong they are for taking on the role and accepting the challenge. They are giving the gift of their time and energy to provide care for a loved one, and even if the senior receiving care doesn’t fully realize it, they would be especially proud of them for taking on the title.
At The Kensington Redondo Beach, our team of caregivers work to make every resident feel at home, and we promise to love and care for loved ones as we do our very own. Our assisted living and memory care neighborhoods are in place to welcome seniors from all levels of physical and cognitive abilities. If you or a family caregiver see a possible future need of transitioning a loved one to a senior living community, call us today to see how The Kensington is different.