Family caregivers provide support for loved ones who can no longer manage their own day-to-day activities. These responsibilities are often challenging, and the stress can take a toll on the family caregiver’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. That’s why we developed a Family Caregiver Support Program!
You may know someone who is caring for a family member or friend, perhaps even yourself. In these situations, supporting the family caregiver is essential. The added stress of taking care of another person can be overwhelming; however, with the right support system in place, it’s much easier to manage the challenges. Here are some ways you can show your support for a family caregiver.
Show Up and Listen
This can be a challenge when you’re busy and have a life of your own, but showing up and listening is one of the most important things you can do for a family caregiver. Family caregivers are often put in the position of having to make big decisions and manage the logistics of caring for their loved ones.
Even when the decisions were made with their loved ones before an illness or accident, this can be a heavy burden to bear. It comes with a lot of guilt and self-doubt. They may not have had time to really process what’s happening.
Be patient and prepared to listen with no judgment. Ask the person how they are feeling, and let them know you’re there if they ever want to talk. Be careful not to ask questions that assume the person needs more help than they actually do—this can make them feel like they are a burden. Instead, let the person know you just want to be there if they ever need to vent or work through things out loud.
Have an Honest Conversation about Expectations and Boundaries
It can be easy to fall into a pattern of caring for a loved one without consciously choosing to do so. If a person has asked for your help, or you’ve chosen to step up and provide assistance, that’s wonderful. However, it’s important to be aware of the expectations and boundaries of the situation.
For example, if you’ve agreed to take care of your aging parent on weekends, it’s important to know how they would like you to help. In a family care situation, it can be helpful to have an open conversation about what each person expects from one another. Then, you can check in occasionally to make sure both are still on the same page.
Make sure that you’re setting clear boundaries for yourself and sticking to them. For instance, if you need to be home by five to make dinner, figure out how to make sure that happens, and actually follow through by leaving when you need to (and when it’s safe for your loved one).
If you’re not the caregiver, check in with the person who is, and make sure they’re taking care of themselves and putting their own care first. This prevents burnoutt.
Help with Chores and Errands
Family caregivers often have a lot on their plates, such as managing their loved one’s medical appointments, transportation, medications, and insurance details. When possible, offer to help with these things and make life a bit easier for the family caregiver.
For example, if there are errands that the family caregiver needs to run, offer to do them. If you’re visiting the person regularly, you can also offer to help out with things like cleaning or taking care of the yard.
Be a Shoulder to Cry On
Being a family caregiver can be very stressful, especially during difficult times. You may want to offer to listen if the person shares that they could use some support. It’s not always easy to know what to do in this situation.
Avoid saying things like, “You’ll get through this!” or “Things will get better!” These things may be true, but they don’t always help someone who is in the middle of a difficult situation. Instead, validate their feelings with affirming statements like, “That must be so hard,” “Wow, I’m sorry you’re going through that,” or “Would you like to say more about that?”
Remember that crying doesn’t always mean the person is sad. It can also be a release of all the stressful emotions they’re feeling. You don’t have to comfort or fix anything. Being there is enough.
Celebrate Small Victories
There’s a lot that goes into taking care of a loved one, and it can be easy to get caught up in feeling like it’s never-ending. It’s important to celebrate small victories while they’re happening to keep up morale.
For example, if a loved one is learning to use a new adaptive device, take time to celebrate that small victory. Or if a loved one is working to regain their skills after an illness or accident, celebrate each milestone they reach as they work toward their goal.
When a caregiver mentions these small victories, take note and send a card or just a text saying, “I’m so glad that you helped them achieve this! You’re doing a wonderful job.” Acknowledgment goes a long way when people are working tirelessly for others.
Being a family caregiver is hard work, and you may often be busy taking care of other things. It’s important to check in with the person regularly to make sure they’re okay and to see what kind of support they need from you.
You can also check in if you see the person’s mood changing. For example, if they seem stressed or upset, ask if everything is OK and if you can help. If the person shares that they’re having a hard time, be there to support them. Sometimes visiting them with family adds a personal touch that can bring an instant smile to anyone's face. After all, who does love seeing their loved ones?
Often, just knowing that people care can make a huge difference in mood and motivation.
Offer to Be a Companion
This can be as simple as helping a loved one get from one place to another. You may want to help with groceries or other errands, or you may be called upon to help a person get to an appointment.
It’s important to know your abilities and limitations in these situations. If you’re not sure whether you can do something, let the person know you’d be happy to help in another way. If you’re unsure how to help, ask the person what they need. Remember, learning how to support loved ones as they age is as easy as asking!
Learn More About The Family Caregiver Support Program
Family care is a challenge for many caregivers, but it can be made easier with support from others. Having the right support system in place can help you manage challenges and receive the support you need.
Contact the Arkansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging for more information about our Family Caregiver Support Program. We can connect you with the services and programs you need.