Five Caregiver Pet Peeves

What your caregiving friends want you to know

Exasperated older woman

If you have a caregiving friend, there are many things you can do to help. On the other hand, say caregivers, there are certain things that are decidedly not helpful!

1. Don't be a no-show. It's sad, but true. When a person is living with Alzheimer's disease, the effects of a stroke, Parkinson's disease, a life-limiting illness or just the combined changes of aging, some friends and even family members tend to drift out of the person's life. Caregivers have heard all the excuses: "I hate to see him this way," "I'm uncomfortable … I wouldn't know what to say," "I don't want to intrude," "I'm waiting to be invited to visit." If this describes you, it's time to overcome your hesitation and get your friend on your calendar! If you had a standing monthly dinner date with a couple for years and the husband suffers a debilitating stroke, call the wife! Ask if you can bring dinner over. Don't just drop it off—stay and spend time with the couple, which will help you become more comfortable with this new stage of your relationship with your friends.

2. Don't avoid the person who is ill. Caregivers report that guests sometimes fail to interact with their loved one who is ill. A guest might feel uncomfortable around illness due to unfamiliarity. They might be unsure about how to communicate, especially if the person is living with Alzheimer's or a related disorder. "Visitors always ask me questions that they should be asking Mom," said one daughter whose mother is recovering from a stroke. If you're unsure about what their loved one can understand, the caregiver will most likely be able to offer some communication tips, and perhaps suggest an activity you can do with your friend.

3. Don't forget to ask how the caregiver is doing. Visitors may be so concerned about the health and well-being of the person who is ill that they forget to express concern for the caregiver. Caregiving is hard work, often accompanied by many physical and emotional challenges. Perhaps your caregiver friend would welcome a change of subject during your visit—but most likely, they would appreciate you being a good listener as they talk about their experiences! One other tip: Many caregivers bristle when friends praise them as being "saints" or say things like "I could never do what you do!" With 44 million Americans providing care for senior loved ones, it's possible that yes, you will someday be a caregiver.

4. Don't make comparisons with child care. Reports one daughter whose mom has Alzheimer's, "Sometimes when visitors watch me caring for Mom, helping her dress and eat, or dealing with incontinence, they say it's just like caring for a toddler." But it isn't. This kind of analogy is not only demeaning to the person receiving care—who is not a child and shouldn't be treated as such—but also can be emotionally painful for the caregiver, who, unlike a person caring for a child, is dealing with the decline of a person they love.

5. Don't be a "swooper." This might be the top peeve for many caregivers! Perhaps family members arrive from out of town. They haven't seen Dad in six months, yet they criticize the care provided by the sibling or spouse who's on the scene. Honor the role of the primary caregiver. Listen to what they've learned. Ask how you can help. Maybe you're a great researcher? Offer to help the caregiver access services in the community. Acknowledge the imbalance of care—if you live out of town, work out a schedule where you can visit more often. Call more frequently. Offer to help with the cost of professional home care to provide ongoing respite for the family caregiver.

The above tips should help you be a better, more supportive ally for your friend and the person for whom they are caring. Every caregiver is different, but they all can use respect and understanding … and help!

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.