Whether it’s for aging parents, special needs children, or relatives with health issues, providing substantial care for another can take a toll on the one providing the care. Some of you have walked – or are walking – this path and have experienced the physical, emotional, or financial challenges involved. Most of us know someone who is a caregiver and stand in awe of the commitment that goes into providing such care regardless of whether it is by choice or necessity. And many of us wonder if there is a way we can help ease the burden, even just a little, for someone we care about who is caring for another. Here are 10 ideas to give your favorite caretaker a break and put a smile on his or her face!
- Let them chunk the chore. Some things just have to get done whether we want to make time for them or not – like walking the dog or cleaning the house. And sometimes less-crucial chores get put off to the point where they become crucial – mowing the lawn, weeding a garden, repairing a broken step. Pick a chore, any chore, and get it done. You may have to coordinate something like cleaning their house, but weeding, mowing, bringing the trashcan up to the house after pick-up and the like can just magically happen. And you get to be the magician!
- Send flowers. A delivery of something lovely gives a momentary escape. Who thought of me? How beautiful! What a fresh scent! And thereafter provides a week or so of color that will be a reminder that someone appreciates their efforts. Now notice I said flowers. No plants, please. And no handfuls of flowers handed to them that they have to go find a vase for and take time to arrange. The whole point is to give them a mini break, not create another obligation to provide care.
- Provide respite. If it is possible for the caregiver to leave the house if their charge is supervised, volunteer your time to do the supervising so your friend can get out of the house for a few hours and take care of some needs or wants.
- Provide mini-respite. If the caregiver can’t leave their charge in the care of someone who is not specially trained, you can still provide respite right in their home. Have your pal pick a time when his charge is occupied by a favorite program or napping, and come hang out while your friend takes a luxurious bath, reads for an uninterrupted hour, or hangs out with his dog in the backyard. You will have provided him a miro-vacation!
- Dub yourself Sir Secret Pal. Send anonymous little gifts or uplifting notes randomly, signed Your Secret Pal. Sure it may drive them a little crazy, but in a good way – a way that will have them looking forward to the run to the mailbox! I’ve been on both sides of the Secret Pal relationship, and I can tell you first-hand that sending the loot will put a smile on your face, too. And to receive unexpected pick-me-ups such as a fun mug with a box of tea, a refrigerator magnet with an inspirational saying, or a good-for-nothing-but-a-chuckle bobblehead bird provided more than one well-needed smile!
- Be the entertainment. Caregiving can be a lonely job. While telephone and social media provide outlets for other human contact, verbal or written exchanges are no substitute for some face-to-face time with someone who’s willing to listen, distract, or provide opportunities for laughter – whatever is needed. Schedule a time when a visit would be appreciated and bring a little fun – a humorous DVD (with some movie-food, of course!) or new boardgame you can figure out together.
- Organize meals on wheels. Or meals on heels. However the group wants to get them there. Get a few volunteers – maybe friends, church members, book clubbers – to each drop off one meal a month. Have a designated day so that your care-giving friend can count on Mondays “off.”
- Create a Spa Day. If they can’t get out for a little pampering, how about sending a credentialed massage therapist to them? There are beauticians, manicurists and facialists who can be hired for housecalls, too.
- Give the gift that keeps on giving. Whether you’re up for a splurge or have a group kicking in on it, a gift-of-the-month club can be a perfect answer to the question: what can we do to help? From fruit to bacon, coffee to beer, knitting to puzzling, there’s a gift-of-the-month-club match no matter what your friend’s favorite food, beverage, or hobby is.
- Provide special thanks. Help the recipient of care thank the caregiver themself. Guiding them through a simple craft, assisting them with writing a note, or taking dictation or cues from them to memorialize their thoughts can have multiple benefits. You may provide an outlet for the charge to express appreciation. And your favorite caregiver may receive a tangible expression of appreciation that would not otherwise have been possible.
NOTE: AARP offers a free download of its e-manual The AARP Guide to Caregiving that can be very helpful. The manual covers topics such as health, housing, legal matters, emotional transitions, and available resources. You can also do an on-line search of the title to find a pdf version that can be downloaded directly to your computer.