Even Caregivers Need Help! Here’s How to Care for the Caregiver Next Door
I must begin this article with a confession. There was a time when a middle-aged couple lived kitty-corner across the street from our house. We didn’t know them well. Our interaction was limited to a wave when we saw each other across the street.
At one point, I remember hearing that the man was diagnosed with cancer. But I didn’t realize how serious his illness was until one morning, when I noticed a lot of activity at the house.
Another neighbor told me he had passed away during the night. I then learned that his wife had been caring for him for several weeks with the help of hospice services.
I felt sad that this couple had been going through such a challenging time, and we were oblivious to their needs. This experience prompted me to get to know my neighbors better and to look for ways I can be supportive if any of them become caregivers in the future.
I trust you’ll find these 6 tips helpful as you care for the caregivers in your neighborhood.
Offer to Run Errands
This can be as simple as, “I’m making a trip to the grocery store. What can I pick up for you?” Perhaps you can take their dog to the groomer or pick up a prescription at the pharmacy.
I’m certain they’ll appreciate an offer to drop off a package at the post office or retrieve their laundry from the dry cleaners.
Arrange a time to stop by your neighbor’s house to watch a funny movie you’ve rented. Humor is healthy, and perhaps the entire family will appreciate the distraction of a good movie. Bring along a snack, too.
Recruit a trusted friend or family member to stay with your neighbor’s loved one, then go out for lunch or a shopping trip. Or perhaps your neighbor would like to join you as a guest at the gym where you work out.
Offer to stay with your neighbor’s loved one for a couple of hours so they can get away for a little break. Ask for suggestions as to what types of activities you might do with their family member while they’re away.
Let Them Know They’re Not Forgotten
Sadly, people often withdraw when a friend becomes a caregiver. It’s not that they’re trying to be unkind. They simply don’t know how to respond. That’s why your simple phone call, text message, email or card will brighten someone’s day.
Oftentimes, caregivers simply need someone who will listen without judgment. They don’t expect you to give advice or provide answers. They just need you to be there for them.
Continue to include your neighbors in social gatherings. When one member of a couple becomes ill, invitations often stop. Your neighbor may or may not choose to accept your invitation, but keep on asking so they know they’re remembered.
Take Care of Outdoor Tasks
When someone is busy being a caregiver, keeping up the outward appearance of their house is probably the least of their concerns.
Rather than being annoyed that your neighbor isn’t keeping up with community standards, watch for opportunities to help. Shovel the sidewalk. Put up or take down Christmas lights. Water outdoor plants. Offer to clean out the roof gutters.
Caregivers sometimes find it difficult to accept help. Don’t be offended if they turn down your offer. Simply be on the lookout for other ways you might be able to help.
Lighten the Load
Look for opportunities to save your neighbor a bit of precious time. Offer to help with seasonal projects like washing windows, laundering blankets or cleaning closets. These tasks often seem overwhelming, and it’s easy for a busy caregiver to let them go undone.
Every now and then, double the recipes when you’re cooking a meal. Freeze the extra food for your neighbor to heat up when they need a break from cooking. You might also provide them with a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant that delivers meals.
Give your neighbor an attractive notebook and encourage them to jot down ideas as they think of projects where they can use assistance. Then when someone asks, “What can I do to help?” they’ll have an immediate answer.
Help with Children
Many caregivers today are part of the sandwich generation. They try to keep up with the many needs of aging parents while raising their own children.
You might help by inviting their children over to your house for a meal or a playdate with your children. Volunteer to help their children with homework or provide a ride to an activity. Attend a few of their children’s sporting events or other activities and cheer them on.
Are you a caregiver now, or have you been one in the past? What other suggestions can you offer when someone wants to help? Please offer your experience and tips below.
Diane Lansing, RN, enjoys working part-time as a corporate wellness nurse. She has over 25 years of experience in geriatric nursing, and her passion is working with residents of memory care units. She loves volunteering at nursing homes and blogs about her experiences at NursingHomeVolunteer.com.