Caring for the Caregiver: 12 Tips for Families of Caregivers to Provide Support

by: Susan Ashby

As parents age, they will begin to need more help to stay in their home and remain as independent as possible. If there are several adult children, they may all share in the caregiving in the beginning. Their parents may only need tasks completed like minor home repair, shoveling the sidewalks, or raking the lawn. As time goes by these chores may increase. Perhaps their parents don’t feel comfortable driving any longer, or meal preparation has become too difficult. Slowly but surely, family members will take over more tasks for their elderly parents.

Usually, one person will take over the primary role of caregiver. It may just be that this person lives the closest to Mom and Dad, or maybe one child is retired and more available to assist them. It may not be a designated position; it just happens. One thing is for sure: This helpful person will need support from all the family and maybe professional assistance as well. The following are ideas of how you can support the primary caregiver.

1. Finances. Offer to take on the financial role. Make sure all bills are paid on time. Take care of having tax returns completed. Deal with Social Security and Medicare. Take care of any investments or retirement funds.

2. Cleaning. Offer to come on a scheduled day or days each month to help clean the house.

3. Yard work. Take over the yard work. Include trimming the bushes and tending the gardens. It is stressful to look out the window and see grass that needs mowing or overgrown weeds in the flower beds. Make it a family event and include the kids.

4. Snow removal. This might not be an issue if you live in the south, but northerners know that snow removal is extremely important. It won’t matter if the roads are plowed if you can’t get out of your garage. This is a safety issue for the elderly. Not only do they have to be able to get out in an emergency, but help needs to get in. If you can’t commit to removing snow yourself, perhaps the family can hire professionals to remove snow and eliminate the stress of shoveling from the primary caregiver.

5. Meals. If every family member contributes one main meal a week, the burden of cooking every night will be shared. Better yet, bring the food over, along with your family, and share the meal together with your senior parent.

6. Appointments. Your senior parents will have routine appointments at the dentist and doctor. In addition, Dad will need to go for a haircut, and Mom needs to have her hair done. Appointments like that could be combined with your visit to the barber or hair salon. If you are able to take on even an occasional appointment, it will lessen the stress of the primary caregiver.

7. Respite. If the primary caregiver is living with the senior as an in-home caregiver, they must have time off. The family must provide at least one full day off each week. This means someone else takes over care from the time Mom or Dad gets up in the morning until late at night when the senior goes to bed and, occasionally, even later. In addition, there should be time during the week for the caregiver to see friends, take care of personal appointments, etc. If no one is available for this time off, you will need to hire professional home care service.

8. Vacation. The primary senior caregiver should have time off for a vacation. Other members of the family need to cover for the primary caregiver. Maybe each takes a day or one takes the whole vacation. In many families, a family member who lives far away and is unable to help on a regular basis will plan to come home and take over the role of senior caregiver for the time the primary caregiver is gone.

9. Visit. If the caregiver is unable to leave the home because they are providing dementia caregiving, go to visit her or him at the home. Maybe Mom doesn’t get up until later in the morning, allowing you and your friend or family member to visit over breakfast. The caregiver has the coffee ready and you bring freshly baked muffins. Also, encourage the senior’s friends to continue to visit. While the dementia caregiver may not be able to leave the house, it will be a chance to take a few minutes for themselves.

10. Holidays. The senior caregiver should have some holidays off. Volunteer to care for the senior on a holiday, so the primary caregiver can enjoy the day with his or her family.

11. Phone calls/emails. If you live too far away to visit or it is difficult for the in-home caregiver to leave the home, keep in touch by phone or email. It helps to connect with friends and not feel isolated in the role of caregiver.

12. Gratitude. Make sure you tell the primary caregiver how much you appreciate what they are doing. Thank them for the good job they are doing and the sacrifices they are making. Thank them for making it possible for your parent to stay in their home.

If you have a friend or family member who is a primary caregiver, keep offering help even if at first, they say no. Sometimes, it takes a while before they realize how important even a small break can be to recharge their batteries. Encourage them to do things that help them to de-stress like going for a short walk or working in the garden, reading a book, or listening to music.

Even a few minutes doing something that is relaxing can help. Be ready to listen without criticism or advice when the caregiver just needs to vent. Continue to include your friend in activities. Keep your friend in your life.