Holidays are especially stressful for family caregivers. Memories of happier times bring a mixed bag of emotions. Friends and family may be less inclusive for parties, knowing that a guest with dementia causes difficulties.
The greatest gift you can give a caregiver is your support. This does not include advice and criticism. Support is lending an ear, listening in a non-judgmental manner. We all need to vent at times and simple listening is a great form of caring.
Support is giving your time. It could be offering to stay with their loved one to allow the caregiver to have some alone time or run errands without having to worry. A few hours of your time will make a huge difference in a caregiver’s day.
This gift of time could be combined with a special gift certificate for a visit to a spa. You may want to book a paid caregiver so you can take your friend to lunch or a movie.
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Asking what you can do or saying, “If you need anything let me know” are empty offerings to a stressed-out caregiver, though they might seem well meaning. Taking the initiative in a non-aggressive way is the best approach, though there may be some resistance. Caregivers are tired and too busy thinking about managing care, rather than trying to find time for themselves.
Telephone regularly. Phone calls need not be long, but regular contact is important and reminds the caregiver that you are there for them. Don’t be shy: tell your family member or friend that you love them. We can all sense when we are being loved, and it’s something we all need to be reminded of, especially when things get tough.
The last thing a caregiver needs is your thoughts on what she should be doing. It is easy to judge. Do not offer advice.
Encouragement and support are acts of kindness—advice can only add to the stress that a caregiver may already be feeling. You may not agree with how things are done. You may see a messier house than usual. You may be upset at overhearing the caregiver have an outburst of anger, but unless there are serious concerns for someone’s health or safety, back off. Leave it to the professionals. Be a loving friend, not a doctor or social worker. You are not an expert in Alzheimer’s care, even if you have dealt with dementia in your own family. Each situation is different and each family responds differently.
Be especially sensitive during the holidays. Feelings of isolation and sadness are more common for caregivers during this time. Think about what you can do to make even one day better in the life of your friend. It could be as simple as bringing over lunch to share with the family if resistance to going out is strong. Those who care will find a way, their own way, and will feel good knowing they made a difference in the life of the caregiver.