Simple Ways to Support the Elderly and Their Caregivers

How many times have you wondered how to support your friend or relative who has taken on the role of caregiver? Or maybe you would like to offer your assistance or friendship to that special senior citizen that just can’t get around like they used to? Every time you see them, the same thought swirls through your heart and mind – “how can I help?” I would like to provide you with you some concrete ideas that would be helpful to both the caregiver and the one who is being cared for.

Just so you know where I am coming from, let me give you some background of my current situation. I can only offer thoughts based on my personal experience. However, I believe that most, if not all of the suggestions, can be applied to most scenarios.

My husband and I have been married for 32 years. We have two grown sons, who are out on their own. This was to be the time for my husband and I to enjoy our “newfound freedom” and revel in our alone time. After all, our marriage had its ups, downs, and struggles, and we made it through, victoriously! Our sons are the joys of our lives, and we are so proud of the men they’ve become and happy that our relationship with them is still strong. However, they were ready to be out on their own, and we were looking forward to some long awaited “alone” time.

Plans have a habit of changing. About 7 years ago, my father passed away after many years of fighting heart disease. My parents had been married almost 50 years, and were inseparable. My mom lived in Ohio, and we are in Virginia. My husband and I traveled back and forth for about a year to help her as much as possible, but it was obvious that she could not live on her own. Mom did not have a driver’s license, the neighborhood they lived in for most of their married life was no longer a safe place, and my sisters were unable to help. The decision was made – mom would sell her house and live with us in Virginia.

My husband and I feel very blessed to have my mother with us. I am learning things about her life that I would never have known if she was not here with us. We have become much closer than we’ve ever been. However, the stress that I feel as her caregiver is a feeling that I’ve never experienced. I am responsible for my mom’s health, social life, emotional well being, physical care, finances, doctor’s appointments and medications. I am also her personal assistant for anything that she might need. We’re talking extra things like buying and mailing cards, shopping, wrapping and shipping gifts, scheduling and providing transportation for hair appointments, and trips to the library, etc. I feel completely stressed and worn out, and at the end of the day, there is not much left for myself or my husband. It feels as though my life has ceased to exist, and now everything revolves around my mother’s care and what she may need.

I know there are many other caregivers out there that are struggling with these same issues and could use some help. After a lot of thought, I came up with some ideas that I feel would be helpful.

• When offering assistance or respite help, don’t leave things as “let me know when you need help”. It is extremely difficult for the caregiver to ask for help. Instead, give your friend the times and days you are available and plan for the time.

• A homemade meal or dessert would be much appreciated. Be sure to ask if there are any special dietary needs/restrictions, and let her (him) know when you will be providing the meal

• The caregiver could use some encouragement. Finding personal notes and “thinking of you” cards in the mailbox are a great pick me up!

• If possible, offer to take their loved one for an outing. She (he) will enjoy the time out with you, and the caregiver will relish their time alone. (I would especially love this, being the kind of person who needs “alone time” which is no longer possible) Some ideas: Bingo, shopping, lunch, ice cream cones, hair appointment, manicure, pedicure, senior center, Church events, walks

• Schedule some time to visit one on one – play her favorite card or board game…just the two of you. Or bring over a few favorite movies. Plan in advance so the caregiver knows she will have some time to herself.

• The elderly often feel alone, and especially miss getting personal mail. A warm and friendly note, some family photos or a small gift mailed to them periodically will brighten their day! Find out if there is anything they may collect or especially like. (It’s fun to see the look on my Mother’s face as she unwraps a new Barbie or Beanie Baby to add to her collection! And she also LOVES Word Search books…she never has enough) It doesn’t take a lot of time or money to lift spirits!

• Much of the time, when caring for a loved one, money is very tight. A gift basket, gift card, or movie tickets would be very much appreciated.

• Maybe you have a friend, relative or church member that feels drawn to ministering to the elderly. Let them know of your elderly friend that could use a visit or card. You’d be surprised how networking can work miracles!

• Listening is one of the most powerful and loving ways to show your support. Listen with love, compassion and a nonjudgmental spirit. Every heart has a story to tell!