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Caring for the Caregiver: Five Things You Can do to Help

More than 21% of households — about 34 million Americans — care for an adult aged 50 or older. These caregivers are the unsung heroes of our time, giving of themselves day in and day out. But who cares for the caregiver?

"Caregiver stress" takes a toll

Without a doubt, being a caregiver is a difficult job. Fortunately, it does deliver a few perks. Caregivers report that they feel a strong sense of purpose. They also enjoy the peace of mind of knowing they are making a difference in the life of a loved one.

But caregiver stress can make those feelings of well-being take a backseat to the reality of everyday duties. Unchecked, this condition can create physical and emotional health problems that make the job of caregiving even more stressful.

The average caregiver spends 20 hours per week on caregiving duties in addition to his or her other responsibilities, which may include a full-time job. And the exertion can be overwhelming. Caregivers report feeling there isn't enough time to get everything done. They often feel helpless, isolated and frustrated. They can spend so much energy on meeting others' needs that they neglect their own needs.

Little things can make a big difference

Lightening a caregiver's load doesn't have to be a burden. Little things you do to help can make a big difference in his or her ability to cope:

  • Be sensitive to their needs. Every caregiving job is different. And every caregiver's needs are different. Be considerate of caregivers by taking into account their specific situation. Do they need time alone or with other people? Would a phone call be better, or would a card, email or text be more appropriate?

  • Make specific offers to help. Most of us have trouble accepting offers of help. We aren't comfortable telling others our needs. We may also feel we are burdening others by accepting their offers. Rather than making a broad offer to help, try offering to do something specific. For example:

    • "I made enough casserole to share with your family. What time could I bring it by?"
    • "I'm going to the grocery store. Can I pick up some things for you while I'm there?"
    • "I've got some free time tomorrow. How about taking some time off while I sit for you?"
  • Help with the housework. The first things to go when our schedules are strained are routine chores such as laundry, dusting and vacuuming. Offer to help periodically with the housework. Or pitch in to hire a maid service.

  • Listen. Providing care for a loved one can be isolating. Sometimes the best therapy is the opportunity to talk. Ask caregivers how they are doing. Then listen without offering advice or trying to fix their problems.

  • Be a friend. All work and no play can wreak havoc on caregivers' health. Provide opportunities to play and to laugh. Ask when it would be convenient to bring a movie over or schedule a game night. You might also invite them to go for a walk.

Whether it's little or big, every effort is appreciated. So take a moment to remind a caregiver that there's life outside his or her caregiving duties. Pick up the phone or jot him or her a note and see what you can do to help.

GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention welcomes the opportunity to share this general information. However, this article is not intended to be relied upon as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.