How Can You Help A Caregiver?

September 17, 2011

by Ellen Woodward Potts
Co-author A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver

I have often seen cases, in my own family and others, where the caregiver is abandoned.  In fact, I have been very guilty of not doing enough for the caregivers I know.  If you have a friend or family member who is a caregiver, what are some things you can do to help?

The first and most important thing is to support the caregiver with your friendship.  Even if you live a far away, you can contact the caregiver regularly to check on her.  Listening is the most important gift you can give, whether in person, via phone or via e-mail.

If you live close by, offer to stay with the person who has dementia once a week for several hours, so the caregiver can have some time to herself.  In my home church, there is a longtime member, Rick, who has Alzheimer’s disease.  Rick still lives at home with his wife / primary caregiver.  Several of his friends take turns at specified times every week taking Rick to lunch, to the mall, wherever.  Rick enjoys “man time” while his wife enjoys some well-deserved respite.  As his Alzheimer’s disease progresses, Rick will enjoy the time more if he stays at home in a familiar environment and away from crowds.  For now, he enjoys getting out.  Whether Rick leaves his home with a friend or whether the friend stays with him in his home, Rick’s wife and caregiver gets a break.

What are some other ways to help?  Offer to stay with the person who has dementia for a long weekend while the caregiver goes away.  If you have the means, offer to pay for sitters, dementia daycare or other support services.  If you don’t have the means to offer financial help, or know that offer would not be welcome, offer to go to the store for the caregiver.  Make main dishes for the caregiver in two to four serving portions which can be frozen and eaten later.  Stay with the person who has dementia while the caregiver attends religious services.  Offer to clean the caregiver’s home.

One common excuse for not doing any of these things is, “I don’t relate well to people with dementia.  I never know what to say.”  Here are some ideas for you!  If you have an artistic talent, teach the person with dementia to paint.  Musical talent?  Sing or play the person’s favorite songs from their teens and twenties.  If you have no musical talent, you can listen to recordings of these songs and talk to the person about them.  People with dementia usually remember things from the distant past, but not the recent past.  Bring out the old photos and have the person tell  you about them, if he is still able.  Recite familiar poetry or scripture.  Read familiar passages from books.  Have the person help you with some type of charitable activity — making supply kits for soldiers, assembling donated school supplies, any simple task that helps the person with dementia be a productive member of society.  There are a million different things you can do.

If you take anything away from this, please take this:  Don’t abandon the caregivers and the people you know who have dementia.  They need your friendship now more than ever.

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