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Ask a caregiver how they are today

Today is National Caregiver Day. Let’s take the opportunity to recognize and honour caregivers today, by asking them how they are and thanking them for all they do in caring for someone.

Caregivers are the backbone of our healthcare system and are the largest unpaid labour force in healthcare. And the service and work of caregivers is often not recognized or honoured-in the workplace, by family members, friends, and sometimes by caregivers themselves. In this blog, we highlight the results from a past Facebook poll on Elizz, and illustrate how the question ‘And how are you?’  is an important and meaningful question to ask caregivers.

Facebook Poll: How are you?

A couple of years ago, Elizz did a Facebook poll of caregivers and the results were both revealing, and unfortunately, not surprising! Here is what we asked: “In your experience as a family caregiver, do people ask you ‘how are you feeling today?’”

Sixty-six (66) percent of caregivers responded that they have NEVER been asked this question! They ARE asked how the person they are caring for is doing, but not how they are doing. This is quite striking because many had or have been caring for someone, typically their partners or spouses, for literally years. To say that caregiving can be invisible to others is a classic understatement. And truth be told, being invisible is only valuable if you are a Marvel comic superhero, not a caregiver superhero!

How do the 66% of caregivers feel about not being asked how they are?  To continue with another understatement, -it doesn’t feel good, as the emoticon, words, and exclamation marks illustrate:

  •  “Not that I recall, they always think we are strong , after four years of sick people who are depressed , I just have to get out of the house.”
  • “NO!!!! They were always just worried about my Mother…. NEVER how I was holding out!!!”
  • “No. They just behave like it is my duty and leave it at that. I am the least of anyone’s concern. I am invisible.”
  • “No…I am the housemaid, cook, and complaint department.”
  • “Very seldom has that question ever been asked of me.”

The difference 5 simple words make

So, how do 5 simple words (How are you feeling today?) make a difference for a caregiver? Overwhelming gratitude and appreciation is felt. Here are some examples of comments posted on the Elizz Facebook page:

  • “A few people do, and I appreciate it.”
  • “Yes, and it’s nice to know that there are friends and neighbors watching out for me too.”
  • “Very rarely. When that does happen, though, it feels wonderful.”
  • “People do and I always thank them for asking! It means a great deal to me”
  • “My children always ask, so I am very grateful”

When caregivers are asked how they are feeling

What was quite revealing were caregivers’ responses to people when they were asked how they were feeling. There is a pattern of not giving the full or truthful answer to this question:

  • “I GIVE the short answer”
  • “I say fine but I wasn’t”
  • “When I was caring for my late husband, people would ask me how I was. I always wondered if I should give them the short version (fine, thank you), or the long version of how I was actually feeling. Most people got lucky and got the short version!”

What are we to make of this? Some caregivers commented that they weren’t sure the person asking really cared or wanted an honest answer. What may also be at play here is the tendency of caregivers to absorb all the impact of caregiving, feel that they shouldn’t tell the truth about just how hard it can be to be a  caregiver.

Caregivers’ feelings since 2015

Elizz has been asking caregivers how they are feeling since it first launched in 2015. To date, over 10,000 caregivers have responded. While 20 % reported feeling awesome, the overwhelming majority (80%) have responded in a way that suggests “the short answer” or “fine” doesn’t really begin to describe how they are feeling. Here are the results:

23% report feeling stressed

20 % report feeling awesome

15 % report feeling not sure where to go next

15 % report that they could use a friend

15 % report that they may need help

12 % report that they want to pull their hair out

What can caregivers do?

Honour yourself enough to give a full, truthful answer.  Give up any notion that you are feeling sorry for yourself if you tell someone it is hard. Give up any notion that how you are feeling is any less important than who you are caring for. Ask the person asking the question if they want the so-called polite answer or do they really want to know? Be your own advocate. For many caregivers, this is a radical call to action.

 If you are not a caregiver and you are reading this, share this article with others. Be present for caregivers and probe in a way that makes them visible: “Really, are you fine?” “It must be hard,” “I know you are doing so much.” Remember, such seemingly simple questions and comments can make a person feel “wonderful.”

National Family Caregiver Day is dedicated to shining the spotlight on caregivers. It is an opportunity to shout out from the rooftops that we know the difference your hard work and dedication is making for literally millions of people. And, it is an opportunity to ask the caregivers you know: “how are you feeling today?”

How many caregivers are you going to recognize today by asking how they are?

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