Updated: Apr 14
Most people will become a caregiver within their lifetime; you likely already know a caregiver (whether you’ve realized it or not). Perhaps you just met a friend who’s a caregiver or a relative who has become one temporarily. Providing care can be rewarding, but it’s also stressful. Caregiving can be isolating and overwhelming, and many caregivers can have a hard time asking for help.
Lending a hand or extending support can mean the world to a caregiver. But how can you best support the caregivers in your life?
What is a Caregiver?
First, you might be wondering - what is a caregiver? Caregivers are anyone who provides care for another person’s daily needs. This could be anyone who is helping another person with a disability, injury, or long or short-term illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, multiple sclerosis, and so on. If your mom takes care of your grandfather, who has Alzheimer's - she’s a caregiver. If you’re supporting an aging parent - you're a caregiver. Caregivers play a huge role in not only providing day-to-day care but also in making sure that the individuals they support have a high quality of life. It’s important to distinguish between the two kinds of caregivers: formal and informal.
Formal caregivers are “paid for their services and have had training and education in providing care”(4), also referred to as professional caregivers. These are trained professionals hired by senior centers, assisted living facilities, healthcare agencies, or other organizations. Whereas informal caregivers, also known as family caregivers, aren’t paid for their services because they provide care for an aging parent, relative, spouse, or someone in their community, etc. Informal caregivers have to balance their personal responsibilities along with their caregiving responsibilities. This may involve a variety of household-related, health-related, medical-related, and other tasks. According to the Transamerica Institute’s Inaugural Study of Caregivers, this makes family caregivers more vulnerable to health consequences such as physical and emotional exhaustion.
How to Support a Caregiver
If you’re a friend, family member, or relative of someone who is an informal/family caregiver, here are 5 ways you can provide support and be there for them.
1. Offer the Gift of Time
Caregivers often find themselves wishing for more time in the day to get their many tasks done. Finding ways you can free up their schedule is invaluable. Ask whether they need any practical help; whether it’s vacuuming, running errands, doing laundry, or other chores. If they decline, that’s ok. Let them know that you are there for them if they need any assistance. LCO Tip: Consider joining their support team on LifeCourseOnline. That way, they can easily tag you on events and tasks to help provide care and support to the entire team.
2. Listen Attentively
If a Caregiver is expressing their challenges, listen non-judgmentally and provide words of support and encouragement. The emotions of caregiving can be complicated and confusing. Caregivers often need someone to listen, so don’t assume they need advice. If you’re unsure of what they need, ask them if they’d prefer a listening ear or advice.
3. Research Their Care Situation
Take some time to research the care receivers' condition or learn about their unique care situation. This can help you better understand how you can support the caregiver— and is a great way to show that you care about what they and their loved ones are going through.
4. Provide or Recommend Respite Care
Family caregivers often provide around-the-clock care to balance their own responsibilities and their care recipient’s needs, so time away can be a luxury. Try arranging a break for a caregiver or coordinating respite(2) care on their behalf. If respite care isn’t an option, try contacting another family member, friend, or formal caregiver to see if they can provide temporary support. This can be particularly complicated for some caregiving schedules, so remember to be considerate, provide ample notice, and work with their caregiving schedule, not against it.
5. Check in Regularly
It's easy to forget about checking in on loved ones when life gets busy. Try to check in regularly to see how the caregivers in your life are doing. If they are going through a difficult time, consider offering any of the support above. Remember, family caregivers, juggle multiple responsibilities while caring for their loved ones. Avoid doing anything that adds to their already full plate. Be considerate of their situation by giving them time and space for themselves. In addition to these five ways, try your best to be thoughtful and find personalized ways for their unique situation and needs. By taking a few extra steps in supporting them, you can show that you truly care. LifeCourseOnline is a life-planning platform and community where you can articulate your needs, pursue your goals, coordinate practical care, and connect with your network of support on a regular basis. To learn more, head over to our main site at lifecourseonline.com References:
Bursack, C., 2022. How to Be a True Friend to a Family Caregiver. [online] Agingcare.com. Available at: <https://www.agingcare.com/articles/be-a-true-friend-to-a-family-caregiver-167934.htm>.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. Supporting Caregivers. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/supporting-caregivers.htm>.
Collinson, C. and De La Torre, H., 2017. The Many Faces of Caregivers: A Close-Up Look at Caregiving and It's Impact. TransAmerica Institute, p.23.
Hopkinsmedicine.org. 2022. Being a Caregiver. [online] Available at: <https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/caregiving/being-a-caregiver>.