Family Caregivers

How to Help the Caregiver in Your Family

Many families in America now face having to care for a loved one with dementia.  Families are often separated by many miles, and the burden of care falls to one sibling more than the others.  This can be a tough dynamic.  Without good communication and a lot of love, this can be a disaster that separates siblings.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There is usually an obvious choice for who is going to do the majority of the caregiving.  Perhaps it’s the oldest child.  Maybe only one child lives nearby the aging parents.  Sometimes the responsibility falls to the one sibling that is single…after all, they don’t have other obligations, right?  However the decision happens, it is often the case that one sibling bears the majority of the responsibility for caregiving.  But one sibling should NOT have to do it alone.

So you’re the daughter that lives several states away.  You can’t quit your job and move home when Dad becomes ill.  Your brother lives right in town, and he and his wife will do the majority of the daily care.  But you can help.  Here are some ideas of how:

  • Schedule your vacations around Mom and Dad for now.  Maybe not every vacation, but at least once or twice a year spend some time with them.  Give your sibling a few days off while you take on the daily care.
  • Call regularly.  Yes, I mean call every day.  Make it a habit to call Mom on your way to work.  Carry your cell phone on your evening walk and call then.  Listen closely, support your parents emotionally.  Let you know that you love them and have time for them.  And if you hear something different, pay attention.  You can be a caregiving partner from a distance if you stay in touch.
  • Call your sibling regularly too.  Check in at least weekly to see how they are doing.  Do they need anything?  Do they need to bounce around ideas?  Do they just need to complain a little?  Listen, be supportive.
  • The best gift my sister-in-law has ever given me were the words “You are the one that is there.  Whatever you decide, we’ll support.”  I AM the one that is here, and I see the day-to-day.  So I am the one that will likely make the decisions.  But it will be so much easier to do so knowing that my siblings have my back.
  • Some days are just tough when you’re dealing with someone with dementia.  Recently I was having a particularly hard afternoon with Grandma, who was getting cranky and insisting every 3 minutes that we must call her husband to come get her (he’s been dead since 1988.)  I was losing patience fast.  I happened to be on-line, and my sister-in-law sent me an instant message asking how I was.  I wrote back that I wish she could come visit Cranky Grandma right now.  Two minutes later my brother was calling my cell phone, which was quickly given to Cranky Grandma…who immediately starting chuckling when she heard it was her “Favorite Grandson” (his words…her delight.)  That simple act and that quick 5 minute phone call changed the pace of our day and the evening was saved.
  • Pray for us.  We need strength.  We need courage.  We need patience.  We need faith.  We need wisdom to make the right decisions.  Pray for those things.

Simply put?  If you can’t be beside us physically, be there for us emotionally.  We may be the designated caregiver, but this is definitely a family project.

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