Caring for your caregiver

Man in a wheelchair embraces his caregiver - caring for your caregiver

Caregivers do a lot for their loved ones. But they aren’t invincible. Finding your own ways to show care for your caregiver can strengthen your relationship and improve both of your lives. Some of the following ideas can help.

1. Communicate openly.

Nothing will go farther than establishing open and honest communication with your caregiver. Common problems caregivers face—stress, depression, anxiety—can be lessened or avoided by creating an environment where your needs are understood before problems arise, and where your caregiver also feels free to express their needs to you.
Set up regular communication and help ensure your caregiver knows when and how best to communicate their needs to you.

2. Be receptive to help.

Care is a two-way street. Receiving can be just as hard or harder than giving. Hopefully your caregiver understands that you will have bad days when fatigue or pain trumps all else. This is why it is all the more important, on good days when you do have the energy for it, to kindly accept any offered help. And, practice how to politely decline it if you don’t need it.

As with most relationships in life, the more space you allow for grace and compassion, the easier your caregiving relationship is likely to be.

A woman hugs her caregiver

3. Understand caregivers have bad days too.

Even the best caregivers are bound to have bad days. If you notice this, see if you can help. Try to understand what is happening and if you can do anything to make your caregiver’s day easier. If not, give them space. Do your best to mend any hurt caused if needed. When warranted, offer understanding and quick forgiveness.

4. Work around their needs when possible.

Consider your caregiver’s needs if possible. You might keep their schedule, eating, sleeping or other responsibilities in mind when planning your day. Make an effort to understand their schedule and try to work out ways that you can both have as many of your wants and needs met as possible.

Also keep in mind that the purpose of a caregiver role is to help meet the needs of another—meeting their needs is not your role in a caregiving relationship. But being cared for long-term might occasionally leave a person feeling powerless or needy. So if you find places to empower yourself by caring for them, you will likely both benefit.

5. Watch for signs of trouble.

Some of the biggest issues impacting caregivers are fatigue, stress, depression and anxiety. By helping to notice the warning signs that come with most of these, you may help your caregiver get treatment or take necessary action sooner, improving their health. Learn the warning signs and keep an eye out for them.

6. Encourage them to ask for help when needed.

Periodically let your caregivers know you want them to be their best selves. Share any opportunities for professional help or support groups that you hear about. This can help create a more open and comfortable environment for them to work in.

Thank you flowers7. Thoughtful gifts or notes.

Surprise your caregiver with a gift. This doesn’t have to cost any money. You could write kind notes of gratitude or encouragement, repurpose items in your house, post praise on social media, send funny text messages, or use web applications or pen and paper to create art. But don’t feel bad about spending a little money either, if you are able. Small gifts—flowers, homemade cookies, a gift card to a favorite restaurant, a massage, a care package, etc.—can go a long way.

8. Support caregiver advocacy.

Organizations like the National Alliance for Caregiving or AARP use some of their resources to advocate for caregiving needs like legislation that allows caregivers to have rights and instruction in hospitals.
When you have a chance, spread the word about support measures to show your caregiver you care. Similarly, simply spreading awareness for some of the common struggles caregivers face can demonstrate the same interest in their wellbeing.

9. Consider worst-case scenarios.

Bringing up plans for worst-case scenarios is easy to put off or avoid. It isn’t easy to think about what it might look like if we run out of money, suffer a medical crisis or can no longer take care of children. But these are important things to consider so that your needs are known should the worst happen.

Save your caregiver the stress of being unprepared or having to bring up an awkward conversation by setting aside time to talk through emergency preparations. Everyone will rest easier knowing there’s a plan and any necessary paperwork in place for unexpected emergencies.

See “How to be Prepared for Emergencies” for some ideas.

10. Practice your own self-care.

If you don’t take care of your own needs, none of the rest matters. This includes the big, health-related things such as exercise, drinking water, eating right, getting enough sleep, and staying on your treatment plan. It also includes small things that keep you grounded and bring you joy, like art, downtime, writing, and treating yourself to ice cream or live music occasionally. What you do for someone else is likely to suffer if you haven’t first met your own needs.

Hopefully these 10 ideas help you consider small ways you might be able to show care for your caregiver. As Mother Theresa once said: “It is not how much you do, but how much love you put in the doing.”

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