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How Can You Help a Caregiver?

Two things many full-time caregivers never have enough of are time and money. On a daily basis, sometimes even an hourly basis, they are trying to keep a whole bunch of spinning dinner plates from crashing into a broken heap.

This is true for any sort of caregiving, but what I know is dementia, so that’s what I’m focusing on here.

How Can You Help?

So what might you, as friends and family, be able to do to help and support them? Well, first understand that every caregiver is different—just as every care recipient (CR) is different. If you’ve met one person with dementia, you’ve met one person with dementia. Not everything you think they need or might offer is going to be right for them.

Think JFK

The most obvious thing is to come right out and say, “What do you need?” You’ll likely get a list. But even so, here are a few Dos & Don’ts.

The Dos

  • Offer to come by once a week to clean and/or do a few loads of laundry.
    • Or, if you have the means, gift them a maid service.
  • Offer to bring ready-made meals that just need to be thrown into the oven, slow cooker, or Instant Pot.
    • Make sure they have a slow cooker or IP. If not, they make thoughtful gifts!
    • Check first about dietary restrictions, and likes and dislikes.
  • Are you handy with home improvement or DIY? Ask them if there is anything around the house or yard that needs or wants doing.
  • Shopping and running errands with a CR can be time-consuming and frustrating. Offer them a choice—you can run those errands for them, or visit with the CR at home while they do them. You’d be surprised how many caregivers consider the grocery store alone to be a mini-vaca.
  • Offer to take their car out for a gas up and detail.
  • Offer a regular day and time when you will sit with the CR at home or take them to lunch, and allow the caregiver some much needed free time to do whatever they like.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t stop by unannounced. Dementia is unpredictable enough on its own.
  • Don’t offer to take the CR for overnight visits. It may seem like a nice way to give the caregiver some respite, but people with dementia need familiarity as much as is possible. They are more comfortable with routines, and can become over stimulated easily, especially in unfamiliar surroundings.
  • The king of all don’ts is this—if you extend an offer and the caregiver says, “Thanks, but no thanks,” don’t push. As much as they likely appreciated the good intent, they said no for a reason.

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