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Caregiving Tips from the Pros: 8 Words of Advice

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As a family caregiver, you play a vitally important role in the life of your aging loved one—a role that can also be overwhelming, exhausting and sometimes thankless. As our gift to you this season, and as an encouragement for all of the good work you are doing, we asked professional Home Instead® CAREGiversSM to share their best advice with you. Here are eight of our favorites.

1. Take a break without feeling guilty.
Maggie, a Home Instead CAREGiver, says, “The one thing I would advise a family caregiver is to allow themselves respite time, at least a couple times each month, without feeling guilty. A refreshed caregiver is a much better provider of care when they themselves have taken a much needed break.”

2. Helping your loved one look good can help them feel good, too.
CAREGiver Theresa says, “Washing their hair, getting a trim or a haircut can vastly improve how they feel and see themselves. Update their clothes as their size changes or they lose a lot of weight. Purchasing two or three brightly colored, patterned ‘senior bibs’ or ‘painting smocks’ that can be put on and washed every day can also extend the life of their clothes.”

3. Give them the freedom to forget.
CAREGiver Lori says, “Do not assume your family member remembers even the simple parts of life they've always known. Do not assume they like what they've always liked: music, television, current events, travel, past favorite foods, visiting in large groups of people. Do not assume they remember the person in church greeting them, or the neighbor next door, or even you. Allow them the space to remember and forget at their own pace.”

4. Call or visit regularly.
CAREGiver Renee says, “In my years as a caregiver, I have found that most seniors who do not get out much usually experience loneliness. Their phone seldom rings and the television is often left on all day for company. They want to hear the sound of other voices but that doesn't take the place of visiting with other people or spending time out in public.” Renee suggests setting a specific day and time each week to call, to give your loved one something to look forward to. A simple letter or greeting card to let them know they are missed and loved can make their day and remind them that someone cares.

5. Allow them to change and accept when they do.
“Whether it’s a physical incapability or behavioral, realize that it is okay that your loved one is not the person you remember. Step back and realize the only way they can get peace is to let them be.” – Jeannie, Great Lakes Region 2012 CAREGiver of the Year

6. Never make them feel incapable, or say “no” outright.
Jeannie also advises, “Be considerate about things that may be embarrassing to them (e.g., helping them out of a wheelchair). Be as creative as you can be. If they’re confused about what is going on, ease the confusion by asking questions about their past and suggesting activities like going for a drive and pointing out all their favorite locations. Do what you can to make it feel like they weren’t denied anything.”

7. Be patient and respectful.
Mariana, Central Region 2012 CAREGiver of the Year, says: “Regardless of the reasons they need care, it is important to provide loved ones care in ways that are respectful of their dignity and independence. You need to be patient.”

8. Accept help.
“You need to take care of yourself to take care of someone else. If people offer to help, accept the help.” – Mariana

Now that you’ve heard this advice from professional CAREGivers, what advice could you share to help them? We’d love to hear your comments below!

Last revised: November 21, 2013

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. March 12, 2014 at 7:48 pm | Posted by Laird

    I am the sole caregiver for my demented wife. I came to this site for help for me. Seem to be two themes: "here's how to help the patient." That is complete off topic. And, "I'm drowning as a caregiver." That, of course is why we came to the website. So where's the help? Just insipid, worthless platitudes from the uninformed.


    • March 30, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Posted by Betty

      I totally understand. My little bit of family has desserted me and old friends do not exist anymore. Always about my husband and his needs. This is my first communicatio as I just joined WSA.


  2. January 31, 2014 at 7:43 am | Posted by Teresa

    Uninterested children sometimes come from bad parents. I alone care for my mother in caribbean. My father is a sociopath, my mother is lame. 5 devalued, berated, abused children... no sense of family, loyalty. NOTHING!!!! Lots of divisiveness...pop, taught that perfectly. I was my mothers least loved. Afterall, my father loved me too much. But guess who is doing it all for whom she loved least?


    • February 20, 2014 at 11:31 am | Posted by WMRivi

      I think few people get to experience the true essence of forgiveness in life [FORGIVENESS - the lesson many believe God put us here to learn]. I appears you're one of the fortunate few who has indisputable evidence of receiving that lesson. Not by mere words, but by your actions.Anger is a natural emotion for caregivers - especially under the circumstances you've described. Your actions, however, speak louder than your words.God Bless!


  3. January 12, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Posted by Jennifer

    I have a private-care companion friend that say's she is dumb sometimes when she has trouble with memory; and I use a tactic that I tell her, which makes her feel better for the moment. I tell her that she just has a couple of wrinkles on her brain. I think it takes more of the negativity/mood away and directs it to make the comment and thought a normal occurrence in life.


  4. January 1, 2014 at 7:42 pm | Posted by Diane

    I am a caregiver of my husband going on 6 years. I have no one to step into help. I have a brother with a wife who never once has offered to give me a break. Stated this was my responsibility. I work a full-time job and come to another 24/7. Church I went to does not offer no compassion or help. All the friends my husband had before getting sick they all ran the otherway after he became ill. They all want to remember him how he used to be. Any help I get I have to pay for. That I cannot afford to do but once in a blue moon. I am losing my house now. Am I angry yes. People all talk "I don't know how you do it" well I sure don't see anyone trying to help me I love my husband and do all I can. We have daughter who lives about 5 hours away with two children she don't even try to come and help . She works fulltime so I can't really expect alot. Am I stressed yes I would love to have just a small break but I don't see any in the future.


  5. December 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Posted by Karlene

    I have been a caregiver for many years and I know that it's hard for some family members to accept that their parents are not who they remember or want them to be, but try to understand that they are having the same issue of coping with the changes as are.


  6. December 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Posted by SUE

    My hubby has moderate alz. I'm his wife and caregiver. We live in an apartment complex.I have no transportation and rely on my friend for everything. My hubby has five children which three lives within distance from each other and between one minute to twenty and forty minutes away from us. The closes one came only one time to see his/her dad within a year.The second, forty min away comes once in a blue moon. and the third one, has mentioned lots of time that he/she has a family of their own and their problems. Therefor, I shouldn't expect and help from either of them and that I'm the wife and need to be responsible for their dad. I understand that everyone has a life. However, how can there be such undesirable children? Most of the time I feel depress, tired,and mentally exhausted. What else can I expect? I love my hubby dearly although, he's not there anymore. Any input will make a difference. Kindest Regards


    • March 7, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Posted by Julie Christine

      Sue I feel your pain. I am the youngest of my mothers 3 children. I have decided to become her caregiver mostly because I know how lonely she is. My sister is a horrible human being, who not only refuses to help my mother(bad blood between them) but actually told me she will not cry when our mother dies. My brother, an extreme narcissist, would never accept such a responsibility as caring for another person. All three of us had a rough childhood growing up with my mother, but they lack empathy in knowing she is old now, and not the same person as before. There are indeed undesirable children, and that's why it's so important that we step up to care for our loved ones. Sometimes, we are all that they have.


    • March 30, 2014 at 2:59 pm | Posted by Betty

      I envy you that you love your husband. Mine has been very abusive through out our whole marriage. Now this is what I have? We had a handicapped child who passed 10 yrs. ago at 28 yrs. Was devasting. His dad's M.S. started flaring a year before. Our other son we have not seen or heard from in 6 years or even seen our 3 yr. old grandson. He "can't stand to see his dad this way". I will never understand family...Thank you, Betty.


  7. December 10, 2013 at 6:14 am | Posted by Rebecca

    These "caregiver tips" are not for the benefit of the caregiver. I'm so tired of the absolute lack of care for the caregiver. Take a 'respite' twice a month - are you kidding me? Try at least once a day - at least. Caregiver mortality is on the rise - that's right mortality. Most jobs are 8-10 hours a day, but caregivers are often expected to at least be 'on call' 24/7. And Sharon I do understand how you feel. My brother does nothing and this is a common scenario. He comes to visit for a few days a year and my mother makes excuses for him, like 'maybe he can't afford it'. Or 'well he only has 4 weeks vacation' - what about my vacation? My partner and I live with my mother and have taken her on vacation with us. We've had 2 days overnight by ourselves in I don't know how many years!!!! Give me a break. Recently on my brother's annual visit he actually had the nerve to say to my mother: "I wish I could visit more, but we've spent so much money on Jimmy's (his cat) doctor bills that I really can't afford it. He went on to say that in the last year and a half they've spent $20,000 dollars on him but that he was worth every penny! The other thing that bugs me is that we work so hard to make the care recipient feel so 'loved' when they might be treating us like crap. The other thing is the current psycho babble: "Well you can't change another person you can only change yourself!" Cop out! Of course you can especially if there are enough consequences to bad behavior - look up Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I'm so glad Sharon that you genuinely care for your mother. But there so many elderly that are nasty, unlovable and selfish and it's time the whole caregiver industry step up and hold them accountable.


  8. December 7, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Posted by Esperanza

    To Sharon,You are doing good work. Sometimes we will not get the extra help, but if you can ask a friend to take your place for a few hours per week, maybe that would help to offset what your sisters are not able/willing to do. It is ok to love your sisters in spite of their situations. Since we are each responsible for our own choices, but not each others choices, your choice to not be bitter or resentful will help you alot. After 2 1/2 years of my forgetful and mobility-challenged parents living in my home, I have to give God the credit for giving me perseverance, patience and love for them that I never would have had otherwise. When siblings cannot be present to help, the load can be very overwhelming. But having made the decision to be involved, as time goes on, I keep learning about new coping skills, and things are going ok, even though it is not easy. You know, people are naturally selfish. This is an opportunity to learn about being unselfish, and I am thankful for it.


  9. December 5, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Posted by Reply to Sharon from Dec 4 2013 5:25 PM Cathy

    JMJHi sounds like you are doing far too much...please consider lessening your 1-8:30 daily schedule by at least two hours...your Mom is in a care facility and her needs are met. Then, out of the two hours, use 1/2 hour of this time for prayer...the prayer will help your Mom significantly, and will also allow the Lord to guide your steps and daily schedule. The remaining one-and-one-half hours should be taken for what you need as a caregiver (rest, exercise, music, reading, etc.)...please don't burn yourself out!


  10. December 5, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Posted by Jan Gaston

    Patience, patience, necessary and yet at times so hard to come by. One area was especially difficult for me: the same question or comment repeated endlessly (seemingly). I struggled until I read (or heard) to remember that was the illness speaking and all the reprimands in the world cannot stop it. I found that It is much easier on all concerned to answer kindly each time. It takes a lot less time to do that than to deal with the negative outcome of an impatient reply...and it feels so much better.


  11. December 5, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Posted by Veronica Garner

    Sharon, your letter was compelling. Many people find themselves in your situation. I have worked with families with seniors needing care for many years. I am guessing you are in Canada and hope there are support groups you can turn to for resource information. My experience has been that the primary caregiver is overwhelmed with trying to solve everything at once. Consider taking a "one day at a time" approach. Re-evaluate the need for the amount of time you spend each day. Can you take two hours (daily) for yourself to rest? You are right, suggestions can be helpful, but only if you can apply them to your needs. If you burn out while your mother is in a facility, you will be of no help when she makes a transition. Taking care of your health is the best way to care for both of you. Ask the social services department of the care facility for any information that may be of help to you. Bless you.


  12. December 5, 2013 at 10:35 am | Posted by Rosalie French

    I would love to keep my husband clean, haircut, shaving, changing his clothes, batheing, etc...but, he won't let me...he gets really aggressive and people tell me I just have to be patient...I've been using disposable wash cloths for almost a year...the last time he went in the bath tub was last Feb...he has bowel incontinence so sometimes its soooo hard to take the odor....I'm really getting to the end of my rope...I wish there was a place I could take him for a "spa day" where they would just clean him up for me...he does allow me to shave him most days but he won't give me his dentures or brush his teeth...he isn't physically an invalid so he pretty much does as he pleases....he keeps the same clothes on for days on end and he sleeps in his clothes so I can't just take them and put others on..he also sleeps with his mocassins on...this has been going on for a long time and I'm really getting discouraged!!!


  13. December 5, 2013 at 8:25 am | Posted by Henri Moore

    Don't rely on your loved one to remember or pass on crucial information to others.If they do pass on info that matters but doesn't seem correct then check it out .My 93 yr old mother-in-law has caused many riffs in the family because others believe & pass on her incorrect information.They still do!


    • December 7, 2013 at 11:56 pm | Posted by MaryGeake

      My MIL is the sweetest person to us but makes up stuff to complain about me when ever family members come by. I have to apologise to the family & get worried that they will believe her!


  14. December 4, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Posted by anne harrill

    Don't be "chatty", no matter how friendly; it tires those who try to make sense of what you are saying. Quiet moments, just being there with a loved one, are often the most appreciated,..and caring.Also, only ask occasional questions,..and don't worry if there is no response to the conversational ones. Elders may think about a question for a while before trying to formulate an answer. And questions at times are very tiring; their energy may just not be up to responding.For some, great pleasure (and wellbeing) comes from listening to, and watching old Broadway musicals. They may have happy memories ,..and the stories are usually upbeat. (ie: My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Oklahoma, South Pacific..just to name a few)


  15. December 4, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Posted by Sharon

    Suggestions welcome:)For the past three months I have been spending from 1 - 8:30 with my parent everyday. She is in a care facility which is actually more like a 'transitional' facility until she can return back to her apartment. I'm finding myself fast tiring out and Christmas is just around the corner. I never let her know that I'm tired because I never want her to feel a burden. I love her and cherish every minute I have with her. In my free time in the evening I wash her clothes and tend to my four furry creatures that I love as well. I sleep poorly. I go to bed very late even though I'm exhausted. I worry about where they will place Mom...whether she can go back to her apartment or not. And now when I sleep I actually dream that I'm at the Care facility helping - I've woken myself up rubbing the pillow thinking I was rubbing my Mom's backSince my father left when I was 16 (I'm now in my mid 50's) I've taken over the role of 'husband' and helped Mom out in everyway. She has worked very hard all her life to provide for her family. I do have others sisters. One is developmentally delayed and visits my Mom twice a week for two hours. The second is low income and lives a province away. She truly needs to stay working and I understand her inability to come and help. The third I've approached and asked if she could help out twice a week...then I've asked for help once a week for two hours. She won't help.I know that the suggestions given are wonderful, but can't always be helpful to different situations. Has anyone else been in this type of situation?If I've placed this in the wrong area, please remove it.Kindest Regards.


    • December 5, 2013 at 11:23 pm | Posted by C

      Hi Sharon, I have had the same experience w siblings. I cared for my mother for almost three years. I sometimes had a hard time sleeping, too, bc I thought about her / cared about her a great deal. I think though that I did all could do and that feels very good eg you won't have regrets. I also sometimes felt resentful towards siblings and got a sore stomachw that feeling; it was a feeling of being overwhelmed by the work and angry no one stepped in to offer help (we are three siblings). It was a challenge to try not to feel this way so I had to find ways; to deal with it, and I found it helped me to take walks bc they calmed me, and to exercise, and talk to understanding friends, and to write things out. Take good care, it is demanding but you are helping your mother manage this time and be much happier, and it sounds like you love her a lot, which she knows.


    • December 9, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Posted by Dell Martinez

      What you need is "respite care". That's the name for assistance to the caregiver. A volunteer comes to where your person is and takes your place with him or her while you go do something for YOU. I work with a group called RSVP. People needing help call them and RSVP calls one of the volunteers, like me. We meet with the caregiver and the patient, determine if we can all work together and go from there. No money changes hands. You mentioned Province which suggests to me you may be in Canada. Let your fingers do the walking (use the phone) and start making calls to find some help for yourself. Check at the place your mom is at and see if they can give you a starting place to find assistance. I feel confident that there is help for you but you need to ask for it. That's the hard part, right? Also, try to resist the feelings of guilt. Do your best, that is all you can do - no one can ask more. I hope this helps you.


    • December 12, 2013 at 7:50 am | Posted by las

      I would say to make it every other day, at the most. Your body is going to 'fold', Sharon - then you won't be able to help her at all. We are not able to control what others do, but I am so proud of you. With that said, you must take care of your body too - this has happened to me w/ my Mom, and I wasn't even putting in near the hours that you are.


    • December 12, 2013 at 11:07 am | Posted by Anonymous

      You are not alone. We are currently experiencing the same situation with our siblings.However, you need to take time for yourself. You have made your visits a full time job. Despite how much we might LOVE our job, we need time off. The same is true with your visits. You needs to allow yourself some time off.The facility is well equipted to care for your mom. Your visits should be just that, a visit. Maybe you could shorten the time you are there by alternating coming earlier, staying late (1-5:30, 2:00-6:30, 3:00-7:30, 4-8:30). Ask yourself, if you spend all day at the facilitynow, will the expectation be the same if/when mom returns home.If you don't take care of yourself, you will not be able to care for mom. Take care of yourself!


      • February 13, 2014 at 6:12 am | Posted by G T

        I am just at the very beginning of a caregiver situation for my Mom who is in a nursing home but will be coming home in another week or two. We will be getting a 24 hr caregiver but as Mom does have limited resources, I will be staying with her 2 days of the week and so the caregiver will be for only 5 days. I have a sister who has told me she is not trained to be a caregiver, although Mom is able to walk with a walker and is not incontinent, so what she really needs is a companion. My sis says "I want to visit Mom, not take care of her". I have suggested that since she won't stay with her, she should pay for a day of care, and she does not agree. This is from a sister who asks Mom for gas money when she brings her I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It is frustrating, but all I can do is know in my heart that I am doing what I can for a mother who worked hard during her life to raise two daughters on her own.


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