How to Care for the Caregiver in Your Life

“I’m fine”: Chances are, that’s the response you’ll get when you ask a caregiver how she’s doing—and yet you both know she needs help. Here are three ways to give it.

1

Invite yourself over.

caring-hands
Photo by Peopleimages.com/Getty Images

Even in the best of circumstances, spending long hours in the same space with one person is a recipe for relationship rifts. Offer to take the caregiver’s place for an hour every week or two. Or visit her and her caregivee: “Interacting with a third party can alleviate emotional strain for both of them,” says Jennifer Merrilees, Ph.D., a clinical nurse specialist at the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco.

2

Send a grocery gift card.

Or spring for a cleaning service for her, or write a check for some of the doctor co-pays she’s probably covering herself. Caregiving is incredibly expensive, and can even be financially devastating for caregivers. No, small gifts won’t make up for lost work hours or an emptied retirement account—but they’re a tangible way to alleviate a caregiver’s immediate financial burden, and show you care.

3

Say thank you.

It’s arguably the single most important thing you can do, says Gregory Johnson, creator of Care for the Family Caregiver Institute (part of Emblem Health, a New York State-based insurance company). “Caregivers regularly burst into tears when I thank them for what they’re doing—because it’s the first time anyone has.”