What you can do to help a caregiver this holiday season


There are 40 million family caregivers who need your help. These are women and men who take care of their loved ones who can no longer carry out some of their basic daily activities, like taking a bath, cooking meals or going to the bathroom. They are often unpaid and overwhelmed. (Alyssa Schukar / For the Washington Post)

Holidays open our hearts in ways that no other time of the year. We generously give time and money to the poor and others in need.

But there are 40 million family caregivers who also need your help. These are women and men who take care of their loved ones who can no longer carry out some of their basic daily activities, like taking a bath, cooking meals or going to the bathroom. They are often unpaid and overwhelmed. Many will not complain or call for help despite drowning in their proper careers role.

We ask people who are struggling with care responsibilities how we can help them.

Yet it is not good enough.

If you have a family member or friend who works as a caregiver, look at "Help", a video that is part of the caregiving campaign of the AARP and the Ad Council. You can find the video on YouTube. It was created pro bono by the advertising agency Spike DDB, directed by the iconic director Spike Lee.

In the video, a woman is finishing a visit with a friend, who is cared for by her husband. "Hi, Janet," she says. "It was nice to see you again, you're fine, girl."

Then the friend turns to the husband-caregiver before leaving and says, "Just let me know what I can do to help you".

This is what we say when you do not know what to do.

In the next scene of the video, which lasts just over a minute, the husband stands in front of the camera. The following brilliantly captures the challenge of being a caregiver.

"Well, to help me, she should help every day," says her husband. "Every hour, every" ouch. "Every time my wife asks for help, I mean, maybe she could help her prepare her lunch, but the crust – all the crust – must be cut off from the corners. help me run to the doctor for the fifth time this week, help me with specialists and second opinions and painful paperwork.

"Help me understand how difficult it is to see my wife's name on so many cards, but this is about me, I'm the only one who can do this for her, and Janet does not like cooking anyway . "

The announcer in a voiceover tells people to visit AARP.org/caregiving or call (877) 333-5885 for support.

I have heard from so many caregivers and their stories inspire and break my heart. They are not celebrated heroes and heroines who take care of one or sometimes both parents.

It was Dorothy, whose father went to live with his family after his wife's death. He could no longer live alone because of his memory loss. He found a daytime program in which his father could go while working from home.

"I found out that the buses were available for a small fee and we moved to put it on the bus in the morning and make sure one of us was there to meet the bus and sign for him."

Dorothy says she has lost sleep and can not find the time to practice. His father eventually had to be transferred to an assisted living facility. He died a year ago at age 91. "You have to do what you have to do, in the best way you can."

Here's how to go beyond the banality of "Just let me know what you need".

Ask with a plan. Do not offer help like this: "I can come and give you the change whenever you want." Instead, say, "I'm free on Wednesday from noon to 3:00 pm to give you some relief, does it work for you?"

It may be necessary to insist, but the assistants need a truce.

Listen to the clues about how you can help. In the video "Help", her husband described being a driver and cooking. Bring a meal. And sometimes just helping you get down and make an appointment to the doctor is a great relief for a caregiver.

Share calendars. When you're busy, you often do not share what needs to be done. On AARP.org, look for "Apps to help health care workers get organized".

Help with homework. Do not say: "There are many resources for caregivers". Instead say "I have studied some programs for the elderly and here is a list".

Use a vacation visit to evaluate what needs to be done. Come prepared not to be a guest but a surrogate caregiver. In a survey last year, AARP found that family carers want help during the holidays. Almost eight out of ten said it would be helpful to have someone to talk to, who understands, 73 percent would like to help with their vacation homework, and 72 percent would like to help with their holiday meals.

We help caregivers to change their internal dialogue. They should not have to do it alone.

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