While there must be 50 ways to leave your lover (according to Paul Simon), there are easily more than 50 ways to help a caregiver. For those of you who are or have already been caregivers, you could put a list together in less time than it would take to look up Paul Simon! For those of you who have not yet had your turn as a caregiver, you can simply draw on those who have. It is not rocket science and doesn’t need to be complicated. You can help by offering what you do well and what fits in terms of your relationship, lifestyle, personality, and preferences. However, there is one thing you can comfortably and immediately cross off your list: Offering unsolicited advice or tips. Unless you are asked for advice, it is best to keep your wisdom to yourself!
The simplest way to be the most helpful is to ask what you can do to help. Most caregivers actually know what they need help with. You can certainly offer suggestions of ways you are willing to help, but what is most important is that the conversation ends on a concrete note, and not the vague “just let me know
” perspective. Caregivers often find it hard to ask for help. This makes it difficult to follow through with offers that put the onus back on them to reach out. So, do what you can to come up with a concrete plan when you offer to help a caregiver. At Elizz, we use the 5 LifeStages of Caregiving to describe the caregiving journey. Based on the amount of hours spent on caregiving tasks and activities, the 5 LifeStages are: Helping, Involved, Intensive, All-Encompassing, and Closing. Caregivers can benefit from support and help at all 5 LifeStages. Here are some suggestions on ways you can show support and help:
- Drop off a meal. Even better, if there is enough for leftovers, consider packing it up so that it can be frozen and thawed for a quick and easy meal at their convenience.
- Invite them over for a meal.
- Take them out for a meal.
- Start a food chain with others interested and willing to help.
- Call or text when you are going to the grocery store and offer to pick up and drop off any items they may need.
- Double your baking recipe.
- Give a gift certificate for a local restaurant or their favourite fast food or beverage. Which coffee is better? Tim’s? Starbucks? Second Cup? …we aren’t touching that subject with a ten foot pole!
- Arrange for prepared meal delivery for a day, once a week, every full moon, whatever works!
- There are many ways in which to help a caregiver financially, for example, you could offer to help pay for services such as house cleaning, health care, or respite services.
- Print out or give them the link to information on government funding, programs, and tax credits for caregivers (link to article). You can even offer to help fill out paperwork, find answers to questions they may have, or seek out information about eligibility.
Emotional Support and Advocacy
- Ask how they are and wait for a ‘real’ answer, not just the typical “I’m fine.” Remember, 66% of caregivers are never asked how they are feeling (link to HAYFT article). When they are asked, many respond with a short “fine” rather than the fuller story.
- Related to above, be present and listen without trying to ‘fix’ anything.
- Buy them a massage, a pedicure, a manicure, or some other self-nurturing gift.
- Call or text to ask them how they are doing. Even if they are too busy to respond, they’ll know you are thinking of them.
- Tell them that you know caregivers often find it difficult to look after themselves (self-care). However, it won’t help to remind them unless this is accompanied by what you are going to do to help make this happen. For example, you can offer to stay with the person they are caring for while they go for a walk or read a book at their favourite coffee shop.
- Watch The Caregivers’ Club film.
- Drop off funny movies in the form of DVDs, USBs, UFOs…whatever media system they have! Or, schedule a movie date (popcorn and all!).
- Drop off their favourite magazine.
- Send or drop off flowers or a plant.
- Send a ‘thinking of you’ card in the mail (or if you forget how, revert to sending an e-mail!)
- Send a coupon for a hug, a meal, a walk, a movie, an uninterrupted vent session, etc.
- Make a playlist of their favourite music or music you think they will love.
- Let them know that you ‘see them’ and that you recognize and honour the difference they are making.
- Remind them that caregivers are the unsung heroes of the healthcare system.
- Take them for a scenic drive.
- Research and let them know about support groups (virtual and face-to-face in the community).
- Offer to attend medical appointments as another set of ears and for support (with the consent of the person being cared for).
- Arrange to do something fun together.
- Pray together or arrange for a prayer circle.
- Pray to what you believe in for them.
- Offer to pick them up and drop them off at faith meetings/worship gatherings or attend the service with them.
- Get them a subscription for an audiobook.
Hands on Help
- Offer your time. Be very specific with your offering. For example, “I am all yours from 9–2 on Saturday or every Monday.”
- Ask what they find most taxing (physically or emotionally) and take this on to either give them a break or take it on permanently.
- Do research on some caregiving task or activity they would like information or education about if they don’t have the energy, time, or skill to gather and weed through the information.
- Offer what you do well. For example, if you are an amazing organizer, offer this service. If you are a great gardener, offer some gardening help.
- Volunteer to be a ‘backup’ person for emergencies (thus creating a network of support).
- Mow the lawn.
- Shovel the snow.
- Rake the leaves.
- Fill the bird feeder.
- Take the dog for a walk or a trip to the dog groomer.
- Pet the cat and if you’re brave – trim its nails!
- File and organize paperwork. Create forms or documents to help with organization of emergency phone numbers, appointments, etc.
- Arrange to take their vehicle in for an oil change or a tune up.
- Schedule a visit and while doing so, wash the dishes, do a load of laundry, or load/unload the dishwasher.
- Pick up and drop off the kids at school or extracurricular activities.
- Pick up a load of laundry and bring it back clean (Hint: ask about any soap or scent allergies/sensitivities before you bring back socks smelling like a field of daisies!).
- Organize photos because well, many of us could use this help!
- Set up e-mail if it is not already set up.
- Troubleshoot computer problems and/or set up the computer to be user-friendly.
This is in no way an exhaustive list. But, remember that there are many ways that you can help a caregiver – all you have to do is ask and offer. And follow through.