This month I was honoured to speak to a group in San Miguel de Allende on the topic of caregiving and in particular, how to really support a caregiver. Here's a synopsis of my ten ways. There are more of course, many more. But I hoped to get my listeners thinking about the ways to help, "hiding in plain sight". In future blogs I will talk about each of them in more detail. Here are my ten ways:
1. See Them!
Caregivers either deny or resist the idea that they are caregiving (no, I’m just doing what a spouse does) or underplay the level of effort involved. It helps a person who is giving care to show that you see them as carers.
2. Acknowledge Them!
Caregivers become used to being number two. A question that makes a big difference is the one so many fail to ask, “how are YOU doing?” But be aware that the likely answer, “fine” might be hiding a torrent of emotion.
3. Be Prepared to Listen.
Caregivers become isolated when they feel others are impatient with their “complaints”. It’s true, caregivers have a turmoil of ambiguous feelings. Having someone willing to listen without judgement is a big relief.
4. Offer respite.
This can be tricky because the cared for might resist substitute caregivers. A regular commitment is best of all. Preventing caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue can be addressed by regular breaks to be counted on.
5. Be alert to the signs of burnout
One of the difficult elements of burnout is that the carer suffering this may not be aware.
6. Don’t ask “Can I help?”
Help is necessary and welcome, but the best support is given without the carer having to ask for it. However, make commitments you can stick to. (Caregivers need to be ready with their list of tasks that can be passed on.)
7. Resist giving unasked for advice.
A hallmark of this is the phrase “you should...” Offering perspective and giving guidance can be extremely helpful, since caregivers are so isolated. However, hold back on such conversations until the carer is able to hear.
8. Watch your mouth!
There are many common things that people say that are usually not helpful to the caregiver. Example: “I know just how you feel”. But worse than saying the wrong thing is saying nothing!
9. You can never give too much encouragement.
Balm on the soul of a carer is a comment like, “you are doing such a great job”. Carers suffer in silence with guilt, and the feeling that they are not doing enough or doing it right. Help the carer to banish this negativity.
10. Share the caregiver story.
One in four Canadians and Americans has been involved in caregiving and all have stories that they could tell. But they don’t. This means that the caregiver and the role of family caregiving in health care systems is dismissed. Unfortunately, this invisibility means that there is little incentive for policy makers and politicians to support caregivers.
it's about the journey
Caregiving was my first and finest journey. Writing this book about it was the next. It lends support to other caregivers who say, "that happened to me too." I'm on another journey now, advocating for caregiving and an activist to bring on better ways of thriving as we age. It's all brought me purpose and meaning, Come along and get some of that too! I'd love to share your stories. Boldly speaking out about our experiences makes us all part of the change we want to see. So
Join me! Let's talk!