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Esther Heerema, MSW

Want to Encourage a Caregiver? You Might Want to Read This First

By August 19, 2013

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In thinking of friends and family members who are or have been caregivers, I cringe a bit when I remember the words I've said. No, of course I haven't intentionally been hurtful or not helpful; just the opposite. My goal is to encourage and help in any way I can. My best intentions, however, may have been falling short.

Recently I asked some caregivers what they felt people should NOT say to them or others providing care, and some of of their answers surprised me. I'll touch on one of those things here- a question not to ask:

"What can I do to help?"

Initially, this seems like a wonderful thing to say to someone. You're offering your assistance with anything they need, and since you don't know how best to help them, you're asking.

However, it might not be the most helpful thing to say, despite the sincerity of your offer. The caregiver might not know in that moment what they really need, or might not know if what they need is an appropriate thing to ask of you. Although most caregivers will appreciate the offer and hopefully understand the intention behind it, they're not likely to say anything specific in response to your question.

A far better approach is to offer specific ways you can help, such as dropping off dinner, transportation to a doctor's appointment, sitting with her family member so she can go to the store or bringing by some of her favorite library books. Your offer will let her know what type of help you're able and willing to provide, and it's much easier for her to accept a specific type of assistance than to come up with something spur of the moment.

For more on that phrase and 9 others to avoid, as well as some ideas on what is helpful to say, here's my full article:

10 Things Not to Say to Caregivers

Please feel free to add to the suggestions below, including both what to say and what not to say to caregivers.

Suggested Reading

10 Things to Stop Doing if You're a Caregiver for Someone with Dementia

A Dementia Caregiver's Wish List

7 Signs of Caregiver Overload


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