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For Family and Friends Who Care
Who do you know that is caring for an aging parent? What friend is caring for their family member because of a chronic disease or life-limiting illness? Or maybe it’s you who’s the caregiver. Chances are, you’re familiar with the “I’m fine” response.
Maybe it’s a cultural thing we do, answering “I’m fine” as if on auto-pilot. When it comes to caregiving, however, it has dangerous consequences.
If you’re a family or friend caregiver, your health is at risk. You are twice as likely to suffer from a chronic illness than a non-caregiver. You have extra emotional, physical, and financial pressures and live life on a roller coaster of unpredictability. At times, it can feel overwhelming.
If you’re the friend or relative of the caregiver, you’ve likely offered to help. Or maybe you want to help but struggle with what to say or do—especially when you’ve just heard, “I’m fine.”
The truth is that family caregivers often have a hard time accepting help simply because it’s too hard to organize. They don’t have the energy to think about one single thing more. Accepting help can feel like just another burden to manage. Here are four ways to offer support.
1. Reach out… even if it feels uncomfortable.
A simple gesture of reaching out to a caregiver can make them feel much less isolated or cut off from the world. Reaching out can be as simple as “I don’t really know what to say, but I’m here for you. I’m happy to listen or get together.” Text an encouraging quote. Send a card. Leave a short message. Studies show that isolation is a health risk as deadly as smoking. And caregiving can be isolating.
2. Listen without judgment or trying to fix a problem.
Research shows that talking about a caregiver’s journey can help process the challenges and allow the caregiver to feel validated and heard. Listening without judgment is one of the best ways we can support a family caregiver. Often, this is enough for that person. You can let them know you’re open to hearing more about their situation by asking questions like “What’s your biggest concern about caring for your mom?” or “Would it help to tell me about what happened today with your son?” Take caution to gently suggest an idea, and not jump in to solve the problem.
3. Ask to help… and get specific.
Asking, “What can I do to help?” opens the opportunity for the caregiver to accept help specific to their needs. You could make a meal, cut the grass, sit with the person being cared for while the caregiver runs errands, or make phone calls to research and find resources. You could help generate ideas by walking through a typical week in their life. You’ll find something, if not now, eventually, so keep asking!
4. Refer them to resources.
Knowing what is available in your community or in the province can be a huge help. Family Caregivers of BC is here to help caregivers. We will listen, connect to resources, help navigate the health system and introduce new tools and resources designed specifically for caregivers.
Learn more and find support by visiting the BC Caregiver Resource Centre at familycaregiversbc.ca, or call the BC Caregiver Support Line at 1-877-520-3267.
Family Caregivers of BC (FCBC) is a provincial, not-for-profit organization that proudly and compassionately supports over one million people in British Columbia who provide physical and/or emotional care to a family member, friend, or neighbour.