When a friend mentions to you that they are now taking care of a loved one with special physical or cognitive needs, it’s easy to underestimate what this truly means. And it quite possibly marks the beginning of the end of your friendship, if you don’t tread properly.
It can be a quick hit to your friendship in the case of a parent recovering from a broken hip. Or it can be a gradual demise, when your friend is caring for someone who has been diagnosed in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
In either instance, your friendship will be tested. Since a good friendship is a two-way street, this is not the time to wait for your caregiving friend to take initiative.
Do appreciate that they have a new and very demanding responsibility. Maybe it would be better to think about it as an unpaid job they didn’t apply for, but now have to balance with a career or life’s other responsibilities.
It’s a job. Even when they aren’t physically doing something, they are still mentally consumed. They are wondering what to do next, or rehashing something they feel they did wrong.
Quite often, especially in the case of a disease like Alzheimer’s or other dementia, this responsibility can consume them 24/7. It can wreak havoc on their physical, emotional, and financial welfare.
Try to understand that they may do or say things they normally wouldn’t. Cut them some slack.
Don’t judge them based on how they are acting now, keep in mind why you became friends.
Listen to them with an open heart. Let them share, but don’t push them to share more than they want.
If they share their feelings, validate them, and don’t tell them how they should be feeling. For instance, people don’t want to be told they should be happy, or feel lucky to have the opportunity to care for someone.
Attempt to steer the conversation to non-caregiving topics to help them get a mental break. But don’t change the subject or interrupt if they are venting. While talking about something different may be ideal for you, sharing is likely therapeutic for them.
Do educate yourself about the challenges they are facing. For instance, if they are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, visit Together in This for a basic overview of the disease.
Don’t tell them they should also check out this wonderful resource you found. But tell them you discovered a wonderful resource that has taught you a lot.
This is a subtly different approach. They will tell you if they are interested in learning more by showing interest.
Know that while you may become “book smart,” they are becoming “street smart.” Don’t offer too much advice unless you know them very well, and unless they are receptive. You will know it’s the right time when they ask you questions about what you’ve learned.
Pick up the phone and call. Don’t send email and wait for a response.
Do offer to help with specific actions, such as saying, “I’m going to the store, can I pick some things up for you?” Don’t say, “Let me know if I can help.”
Find ways to stay involved in their life, even if it’s only a periodic phone call. And always make things as easy as possible for your friend.
However, if they resist, don’t crowd them or push them to do something. They may need time to recharge, and added pressure may push them further away from you.
Your friend didn’t ask for this added responsibility but they’ve accepted it. And it’s important for you to remember that their caring nature is one of the qualities you love about them.
You might feel confused, worried, or afraid to get involved, but your friend needs you more than ever. So do be a true friend.
What things do you do to be a friend for someone who is caring for a loved one? Or if you’re the caregiver, what’s your advice for others who want to be a true friend?
Thank you. I’m the 57 year old solitary caregiver for both parents, one dementia and the other cognitive decline with age regression. I moved next door to them when this began 5 years ago. Last year, a casual acquaintence from 30 years ago tracked me down and we chat by phone about once a week at her initiative. This gal has always loved to wine, dine and socialize at “fine dining establishments” as she likes to say. She’s 72 and recently her 82 year old wining and dining friend moved to Florida. SUDDENLY she is aggressively inviting me to drive to pick her up at her home an hour away, in the number one crime capital of USA, to go out to eat. Not only is the offer totally unappealing, but I’ve kindly and repeatedly reminded her that I am literally the only caregiver my parents have at this point, and the outing is out of the question. That doesn’t stop her from persisting. She should be a telemarketer! She has several other friends who live near and they do take her to lunch 2-3 times each week, she’s not lonely in that sense. She has singlehandedly brought huge pressure and stress into my already crowded daily life. PLEASE PEOPLE, don’t pressure caregivers to go places and do things they simply aren’t interested in, or express that they aren’t able to fit into the responsibility flow. I’ve now assigned a silent ringtone to her number, but have guilt over it.
Amen. A former coworker friend of mine, who I’d kept in touch with for about 10 years, became irked at me after I declined to accompany her on a week-long driving trip (with her dog) to visit her late husband’s gravesite in another state. When I reminded her that I was the sole family caregiver for my 96yo mom, she reminded me that I had taken a 5-day vacation to visit friends in California the year before, so why couldn’t I go with her and her dog on this trip? She nagged me about it, again and again.
That was pretty much the end of our friendship.
A lot of people just don’t get the constant stress of being a 24×7 caregiver and especially to someone with memory loss or a serious disability.
When we do decide (and are able) to take a break, it should be for an activity we enjoy
Another thing I meant to write, is that i think people often don’t understand just how offensive it can be to a stressed-out family caregiver, and WHY it offends, when someone gives advice that would require them to do even EXTRA work beyond the caregiving they’re already doing.
It’s like, hey, unless you’re talking about something that’s a potential safety issue, don’t EVEN suggest adding to my workload!
As a silly example, when I was taking care of my elderly parents, back when they still lived in their condo in town, a neighbor–who I liked and respected–happened to point out to me one summer morning that I really should be killing some giant bugs that were coming out near the sidewalks of my parents condo (Cicada killers). She told me I should do something with bleach (I forget all the details). I calmly pointed out that Cicada killers usually leave people alone if they’re left alone, but inside I was absolutely seething–how dare this woman expect me to do even MORE than I was already doing…errrrgh!
Looking back now, I realize she was only trying to help, but again, people often just don’t get it unless they’ve been a caregiver themselves.
As a catharsis, I’ve since learned to sometimes turn this type of well-meaning advice into a little joke. Like if someone tells me I shouldn’t have purchased some item I just spent a lot of time tracking down and buying, because it’s on sale or cheaper somewhere else so i should return mine and get the cheaper one, I might hand the purchased item to them and thank them in advance for taking care of that little errand.
They usually get the hint–and alao can’t get mad at me because i was (ostensibly) just joking around with them. Ha!
I am a carer for my husband and find ths article very good and useful – all the advice is spot on! Thank you :-)
We noticed significant deficiencies in my mother after my father died and just assumed it was grief at first. But she was diagnosed with alzheimers. My daughter and family bought the house next to us and moved my mother in with them, so we both were her caretakers with the help of our husbands. Even with that much help, we were busy pretty much 24/7 involved with caring for her. It was definitely a JOB! After 3 years, her doctor said it was time for her to go into a facility for fulltime nursing care. When I was ready. I reached out to friends saying I was now able to get together again. They had moved on with their lives and had no room to add me back into the fold. The ones who did, had gone on with their lives over those 3 years and our closeness was gone. My advice is to remember your friends and take time for them even among your caregivers duties. It’s necessary for caregivers to take a break and shows your friend they matter to you too.
Thank you! Thank you! I took care of my husband who suffered from Lewy Body Dementia and died at age 66 years. It’s like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s combined. He was only 66 years when he passed and diagnosed at 64 years. He was mistakenly diagnosed a couple years earlier with Parkinson’s. I was 58 years when I became a full-time caregiver. Exhausting, scary, unpredictable and expensive. Did I mention expensive? You will not get any help from Medicare after the first 90 days. Please, anyone in this situation, seek an attorney who specializes in elderly law. Seek help from a social worker too.
Thanks for you article.
If you are into prayer, here is one for caregivers – a prayer for them to care for themselves.