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Family caregivers spend a great deal of time caring for family, neighbors and friends — an average of 24 hours of care per week, studies show. For some, it’s a full-time job. Although it may truly be a labor of love, the truth is family caregivers often feel invisible, alone and unappreciated. That’s where you come in. You can make a real difference for your family members, friends and coworkers who are caring for others. On National Caregivers Day, Feb. 17 this year, let them know you get it: You see what they are doing, and you honor and value them.
I’ve been a family caregiver my entire adult life for various loved ones, and I can tell you that even the smallest gesture means so very much. Here are some ways you can demonstrate your support and appreciation.
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1. Be with them.
Melanie Mitchell, who cared for her mother, expressed it so well: “Sit with me. Don’t just tell me how great I’m doing. Spend some time with me.”
What that looks like:
- Ask them how they are doing. Be clear that their physical, mental and emotional health and quality of life are just as important as their loved ones’.
- Listen nonjudgmentally. Let them share their feelings, tell stories, laugh, cry, vent and process their caregiving experiences. You don’t need to fix anything; you just need to care and to validate their perspectives. Let them know you see they are having a rough time and you understand. Tell them it’s OK to sometimes feel resentment, anger and frustration, along with joy.
- Do things with them on a regular basis. Walk with them once a week, schedule a weekly check-in call, or take them out for a meal or a cup of coffee or tea. Plan ahead so they have something to look forward to. Be flexible if their caregiving duties mean a last-minute change.
- Stop by for a visit with them (and their loved ones). Even short visits can change the course of their day. If they are providing hands-on care for loved ones try to avoid their busiest times.
2. Make it possible for them to take a break.
Don’t just encourage them to take a break, plan for it. Help them find the time to exercise, get a haircut, travel, go to the post office, go shopping or keep up with their own health care. Offer and follow up — don’t wait to be asked.