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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. December 21, 2016 at 5:52 am | Posted by AZPhyl

    People forced to retire young feel lots of resentment. If they have worked full time, they missed their work friends, their responsibilities an achievements, their sense of worth. The more responsibility they had at work for supervising people and managing resources, the more they are denied their identity and self worth. After their grieving ends, they well need an outlet for what they still can contribute to the community. It does not have to be in the exact field they worked...just an activity of interest. Maybe a hobby can give a person a chance to participate at whatever level and intensity of activity or "work" that they feel comfortable. It is invaluable to feel needed and productive.


  2. November 18, 2016 at 8:49 am | Posted by deslie

    Hi, Brava to you for doing everything you do to help him. I know it is very hard not to feel appreciated. But would you want him to fawn over you all the time and say thank you again and again? He is down and he does know what you have done for him. You know this deep down. I am just trying to reassure you here. It is worth it because this is a kind of calling you have decided to follow. You can treat yourself to whatever makes you hay inside, and listen to music you love. Feel yourself as a wonderful angel in his life. You know it, God knows it. Let him feel whole and try to accept the tough part you have undertaken. It is far far from easy. But you have a kind spirit. Meeting a friend for lunch pales in comparison with helping someone you love who truly needs you. Walk tall, smile a lot, paste happy notes around for yourself. Eat on a pretty plate -- this sounds ridiculous and simple minded, but anything you can do to treat YOU will take the bad feelings out of your heart. You don't want to continue to resent him. You want to love him.


  3. May 6, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Posted by Annette

    I'm caregiver for my 45 yr. old daughter. She is a cervical cancer survivor but has multiple issues from radiation. It destroyed her bladder and colon. She also has spinal issues from the radiation. She's in a walker now but I see a wheelchair in the near future. What kinds of places are for younger people?


  4. April 27, 2016 at 6:40 am | Posted by Radha

    My husband 64 yrs old is having movement disorder due to Parkinson. He had a heart attack got treated 2012, He had problem in walking after six months of the attack and on consultation with numerologist Parkinson disease was diagnosed. Now slowly he is not able to speech disorder. He is not able to speak properly. He saliva drips and he is not able to eat properly (spills around him). He hates going to a social gathering.I am working with central Govt. His health problem is in the back of my brain. Now, í am not well ( Doctors are suspecting blocked artery). I am not getting any support from my family.


    • November 18, 2016 at 8:40 am | Posted by deslie

      Hello. I am sorry you are feeling so alone in this. You may feel alone but you are not. For one thing, there are many other wives such as myself who go through this every day and night. But as you know there are bright spots, and it feels good to be helping the man you love. There are tricks to help with the swallowing problem. Some Parkinsons pills are hard to swallow, so we were taught to have him hum a deep ahhhh before he takes the, and to kind of swish the big pill around in his mouth. This helps. I ahhh before I give him his pills to remind him to do so. And id he takes a few pills, try not to give them all together, try waiting a few minutes between the tough ones. Also, he should not put too much food in his mouth at once. I cut everything up. He can swallow mashed potatoes and whipped squash for example pretty well. He should not talk while eating -- that can really cause a problem. All our grandkids know not to ask grandpa any questions while he is eating, so we try to talk before we eat, and afterward, not during. Cut things up really small for him, and avoid rice, as that can be aspirated, not good. That's the food part. We have a rail running along the riverfront near where we live. I take him there every day in his wheelchair and he has a vitamin D before we leave the house so the sun can activate the vitamin. Parkinsons people are low in vitamin D, so it is good to give him one a day or every other day on a sunshiny day. Down by the river, he holds onto the rail and stands up and feels tall again and good about himself. Then he walks holding onto the rail, and I am right behind him with his chair so he can sit right away after a few steps. People in the neighborhood come by and say hello, even complete strangers, and this makes him feel part of the world. I could go on and on, and the nightsweats are a whole other issue we deal with. But we feel like a team battling this weird disease. He is a retired doctor so it is hard for him to accept that now he is the one being cared for. But tv helps, and we never watch any sad movies. Something dumb and light and old movies from the 40s before we go to sleep help a lot. Music helps. Anything to lift his (and your) spirits. And just talk to God in your heart and you will feel a smile come over your face. You can do it. Think of it as a calling. God bless you.


  5. November 9, 2015 at 1:48 pm | Posted by Yolanda

    Hello everyone, My mom has Vascular Dementia and I've been caring for her for the past few years. My patience is so thin and at times I lose my temper. I always have to remind myself that it's not her fault, she can't help it. At times she fine but then she begins having a conversation with me that we had days ago. Then some days she makes it to the bathroom and some days she never does. The worst part is when it's #2 and it's all over the place. She wears a diaper but sometimes it falls on the floor and it's horrible. I have her wait to take off the diaper until she gets in the shower but even then it's horrible. I feel like when my daughter (who still lives at home) was growing up it was so much easier. People say that they revert to being children but with children there is an end to this thing. With my mom, lord knows when it will end and I'm not looking forward to the end. I work full-time as an accountant and I hired my cousin to watch her for me in the daytime and then I have her every night and every weekend. I never get a break and I feel that I'm at my breaking point. My daughter also picks up the slack when my cousin leaves to get her daughter from school and on every other Friday (I work every-other Friday) so on the Friday's I'm working, my daughter has my mom. I can't ask more of my daughter because I want her to have a life but I am more than overwhelmed. My mom needs constant care and it's tough. I can't afford to put her in a home because the cost increased and I feel guilty when you do that anyways. She was there for a few years, I always get her out when I start feeling guilty though but then I get overwhelmed again. I feel like I'm rambling but I'm just in panic stress mode so it's all pouring out. Does anyone out there have any good advice? I don't know how long I can last.


    • November 26, 2015 at 4:06 pm | Posted by Cecilia

      Yolanda, I can empathize. My mom also has vascular dementia. First of all, take care of yourself. See if you can take some time off work. Talk to your work supervisors for options. More importantly, you need to re-energize yourself. Second, look into adult daycare centers. It can become costly like childcare, but even once a week will give you and your family the break you all need. You can do part-time or full-day including lunch. They also provide activities that help the elderly mentally and physically. Check out this link: Hang in there!


    • December 27, 2015 at 9:45 am | Posted by Flora



  6. September 18, 2015 at 3:48 pm | Posted by Nita

    For the last year and 8 months, I have been living with my Mother who is 45 min. from my home due to cervical stenosis, balance and ability to get around. She is now using a walker and knows that the time is coming where she'll have to use a wheel chair as it's getting harder and harder for her to "go". Up until 8 months ago, when my sister finally was able to get back to US from England (job related), I had no help. My brother who lives 3 hrs. away has only been twice to relieve me on a weekend. I am married, had to turn down being called back to work after a lay-off. I have always had the "mind-set" that my parents raised me for 18 yrs. and were there for me through the yrs. to help when needed, so the least I can do is be there for them! My Father passed away in 2006 from liver cancer (would work 9-10 hrs, drive 30 min to their house to help Mama the last two months, head home 45. min away late at night, then drive back to work early in morning, 35. min) My sister is on crutches due to RA, so she is limited to what she can do around the house. We all three live at Mama's. LOL! Imagine, three grown women in same house! I have caught myself being resentful, angry, feeling used, sometimes "stressed to the max" feeling, heart-broken seeing my once active Mother deteriorate. And sometimes wonder if Mama does things just to aggravate me. Sis says maybe because she knows I'll do it, to stop, and let her ask, in other words, let her try to do it herself. She can only be on her feet very short time before she has to sit down. I will say I am blessed and grateful that I am able to care for her! She is a very strong Christian woman, and I take her to SS and church and have made friends, grown to love her church and have strengthened MY faith. And even though my husband has been supportive, understanding and agreeable to situation, I think it is causing some strain on our marriage. I HATE the feelings I get and the resentment towards my brother and sister and then feel horrible for having those feelings! Any advice?


    • September 30, 2015 at 5:45 am | Posted by Alice

      Hi Nita, Is there any thought of bringing in a outside caregiver? With your sister living there, she can make sure that your mom is being taken care of. This would give you some time for you with your husband. Don't feel horrible about your feelings, they are normal, as much as we would not like to have them. Hold onto your faith, it's what helps us get through the tough times. Alice


  7. April 26, 2015 at 8:03 pm | Posted by Rita

    I take care of my 66 year old husband who is a double amputee. Although he says he doesn't need much help he does and I'm the one to give it. But it makes me feel unappreciated when he tells people he can do it on his own. I quit my job and gave up a good part of my life to take care of him when he lost his legs. Somedays I have to wonder if its worth it


  8. March 30, 2015 at 2:09 pm | Posted by Marie

    My husband has always been a strong man, mentally and physically. I find his confusion difficult to deal with and I lack the patience. Everyone has encouraged me to "take care of myself". I feel guilty leaving him for a haircut or anything. So, I take him along and sometimes this works out, other times it does not. This, make me upset. He has crazy ideas and wants to do them right now. After disruption, he promptly forgets them. Either way, I have this issue to deal with. It is exhausting.


  9. March 9, 2015 at 7:23 am | Posted by Gayle E

    Check with Aging Services in your area to see if there is a Senior Daycare facility in your area. I took my husband two afternoons a week and it was a Godsend for me. I scheduled my Dr's appointments, hairdresser appts, etc on those afternoon or planned an activity with a friend or a much needed nap. It was worth the cost for me to have competent care for him and he enjoyed the indepence and fellowship with other peers. The one near us was open 7:30 am-5:30 pm so they could care for a elderly family member, dementia of those needing physical supervision like a high fall risk. There is sometimes financial assistance available if you qualify. Breakfast and lunch is also included as well as a full time nurse on sight to administer medication or for emergencies. I also used private sitters at times on weekends or evenings. Several were CNA's we had met at different rehab facilities, or refered by other friends. You just need to put it out there to people that you are looking for qualified help. You'd be surprised who might know of someone with these skills. Again, Aging Services might be able to help with referrals.


  10. February 7, 2015 at 9:59 am | Posted by Alone

    Taking care of 93 yr d mother. Have sibling who has not visited in several years. How does a person lead others(spouse and children) to understand that you are affected by this. Spouse and others seem to have no understanding that my demeanor is affected and expect me to be " normal" at all times. No breaks from a difficult situation affects a person.


    • April 8, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Posted by Lynn Scheinoha

      Please remember that you cannot change how another person behaves. You can only change your perception of the situation. It is sad the your sibling does not visit - but in the end - it is they who are losing out. YOU are experiencing memories each and every day (yes, there are some wonderful ones!). You are the winner ! Try using some "I" messages. Ex: I am so tired from..... or I really could use some understanding. or I am exhausted! I could use a hug - - you get the message.


    • April 13, 2015 at 5:26 pm | Posted by Arlene

      I totally get it. I'm the sole caregiver to my 95 year old mother. I lost my brother (my best friend) to cancer several years ago from cancer. My mother lives downstairs from my husband & I. My only other sibling, an older sister, lives across country & started to visit once a year, just a few years ago. She has no clue what it's like. I get away for 3 days once a year because I FINALLY spoke up & asked her to stay with our mom for those THREE days...whoopie! If I do go out for a couple of hours I have to call my Mom every hour. I also recently went through surgery for breast cancer. I am so stressed out. I love my mother with all my heart, but when you're the sole caregiver, the stress can be overwhelming.


  11. January 1, 2015 at 5:02 pm | Posted by sharen

    Mother 95 is scratching head . Says it dust, seeds wash hair baby shampoo every few days. Even after washing she scratches . "You don't belive me it is all on this Kleenex ". Do not know what to do


    • January 19, 2015 at 7:06 pm | Posted by Lois

      Sorry about your problem. You could try some dandruff shampoo unless her scalp is too delicate. She could have some sort of infection of the scalp, even ringworm. Don't give up.


  12. December 22, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Posted by Marie

    My husband has Dementia. I know I need help for him,. I need a little time for myself, perhaps 4 hours twice a week. How do I go about finding help? Thank you.


    • April 8, 2015 at 2:55 pm | Posted by Lynn Scheinoha

      Please call your local Aging and Disability Resource Center ! They can give you a list of agencies or individuals who can assist you, or suggest some respite options for you ! Don't wait ! Check to see if there is a "Powerful Tools for Caregiving" class in your area - sign up - and go !


  13. December 5, 2014 at 10:33 am | Posted by ann Griffin

    It is not my older parents I am caring for but my husband of 53 years. He had a stroke a long time ago and has recent sever set backs. He needs someone to be with him all the time. I have family and friends who will sit with him for me to get out a few hours every month. He accuses me of stealing from him and has taken me off his checking accounts long ago. I have not taken any of his money and worked two jobs before I retired to be certain my retirement would be independently funded. I can handle things as long he doesn't start the stealing accusations again. I just get so mad and don't want to be in the same room with him. I don't know how much I can take and I feel trapped. I see that he is dressed nicely and bathed, with haircuts and regular professional pedicures. I have done much of what is suggested in the tips, it me that doesn't feel like getting dressed every day or combing my hair. I really feel like I can handle things if he would just stop the ugliness. Does anyone else have these issues and how do they stand it?


    • April 8, 2015 at 2:57 pm | Posted by Lynn Scheinoha

      Please realize that he is not doing this on purpose ! Please get some professional help, and make a Dr. appointment. You might be dealing with depression - which is very treatable. It's not easy being a caregiver for someone with a memory impairment - - please check out a local caregiver support group !


  14. April 23, 2014 at 7:59 pm | Posted by Sandi

    I have been a constant caretaker for the past 3 years for my 85 and 90 year old parents who still live together in their home. My mother who is 85 is my main problem. About every 6 months for no good reason and out of the blue, she accuses me of stealing things from her home. And the accusations seem to be getting worse. Up until this point I could take a breather for a few days and go on by ignoring this bad behavior. But after today's accusations, it is becoming more difficult to even deal with my mother. I will continue to go once a week to set up my father's medications as I don't believe he should suffer because of my mother's bad behavior. But after today, I really DO NOT want to do another thing to help my mother. If she ends up in assisted living which has been her biggest fear due to their not being financially set for such an expense, then she'll have to figure it out. HELP!


    • July 20, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Posted by Kathy

      Hi Sandi: I have a 75 year old mother who has been diagnosed with vascular dementia. She too lives in her own home and I live over 60 miles away from her. Like your mother, she most recently accused my brother, who live in Flordia, of taking money out of her savings account and placing a lein on her property. None of this is true. She went as far as going to her bank and accusing the teller of giving her son money out of her account. One of the bank managers contacted me and explained the situation. I was embarrassed by her actions, but the bank manager was understanding and informed me that at no time would any monies be giving to any one whose name was not on her account. As for your situation with your mother accussing you of out right stealing from her shows her insecurities and some loss of memory. It has to be very frustrating to realize that a part of your memory and coginitive reasoning skills are slipping away and there is nothing you can do about it. And I do understand how individuals with dementia can suddenly get very angry and overwhelmed at the same time. If you feel that your mother needs assistant living than you need to take to her doctor. Perhaps, a professional opinion will grant you the okay you need for a sound peice of mind.--Kathy


    • March 30, 2015 at 1:56 pm | Posted by Marie

      +The hardest time is in the evening. Crazy out of the blue comments and the accusations of Infidelity. The same questions over and over. Lately his words are different from what he means. I believe it is a bottled-up anger.


  15. April 9, 2014 at 6:50 pm | Posted by Kellye

    My dad passed away 15 months ago & my mom moved to Virginia with just myself & my husband. All of our family live in Alabama. She had suffered a major stroke in 1995 & several since then. She moved here & was admitted to the hospital on her first doctors visit. She had been throwing up 4-5x a day for several years. No one changed her doctor or did anything about it. We also learned she had stage 4 kidney disease, which no one knew. She no longer throws up. She has dementia. We have zero help! My question is how do you FORGIVE yourself when you snap, or say things that you don't mean because you are burned out & stress & overwhelmed. I love my mother with all my heart & should & would never change her moving here but it is scary to constant wonder if she's going to be awake in the morning or like now when she doesn't eat & just wants to lay down & I go in there a 100 times to see if she's breathing. My husband told me to stop doing that to myself. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


    • July 20, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Posted by Kathy

      Kelley: I am truly sorry to hear about your mother's medical condition and it must be very overwhelming to see your mother in this state. Over 30 years ago my father died from colon cancer. At the time I was 21 and I remember praying for a cure. Since then I have learned there is not cure at this stage in the game; but there is healing. And even though your mother will pass you need to make peace with yourself. Careing for a love one is very difficult and when you have little or no assistance it makes even harder. When I became my mother's POA, I prayed that God would grant me patience and heart. I believe that in order to be a caregiver you must show patience not matter how difficult this situation. But you need to forgive yourself --you are only human and we all do things and say things that we might regret. While your mother is still living find that peace and comfort through bonding with your mother. Share moments that she may or may not recall. Do not get frustrated if she does not remember--you do. And perhaps that trip down memory lane will heal the bonding you both need. You are in my prays Kelley--do not give up on yourself. Love your mother the way she is now and hold onto the memories of her. God bless.--Kathy D.


    • April 8, 2015 at 3:01 pm | Posted by Lynn Scheinoha

      As caregivers, when we become overwhelmed with the stress of caregiving, we often say things that we regreat later. It is ok to feel frustrated. Please check out a caregiver support group in your area. Call your local ADRC and ask about Assurance services. They will connect you with agencies that provide "checks" to assure mother's well being. Hang in there ! - Lynn


      • April 27, 2016 at 6:48 am | Posted by Radha

        Do not mind , this always happens with a care giver. I am also taking care of my Husband suffering from Parkinson's.Some time you feel so bad to for the harsh behavior . I always calm down in a minute and apologies fro my behavior to my husband and explain my circumstances to him. He understands and forgets it. I promise my self not to repeat . I confess, i have slowly change my self an found a way to overcome my stress.


        • November 18, 2016 at 8:55 am | Posted by deslie

          Yes, I am in the same chorus as you, and I do the same, try the same turnarounds, and try to be light if I have been a bit creepy in overreacting to my husband's issues. He is so sweet and is trying to deal with his Parkinson's as well, and even though I know I am his lifeline, I can go on and on at times about something minor. That's stress related, I do know this. So yes, calming down by stopping and even just smiling within does work, doesn't it? Amazing, one little smile, one little happy reminder in one's mind, can change the whole tenor of the moment. And we can go on and make him feel happy. All love.


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