A How-to-Help Cheat Sheet for Friends and Acquaintances
When someone you know is bedridden, the first instinct is to help. But, for most of us who are not the primary or even secondary caregivers, the desire to help is as far as we get. This sad reality isn’t because people are bad.
On the contrary, people are good—when you give them a way to be good. If there is too much uncertainty when it comes to trying to figure out what can be done to help someone, the result is often inaction (and it’s close cousin—guilt—“I wish I would have done something.”).
Here’s a short list of simple tips you can pass on to family and friends who want to help but don’t know what to do:
(1) Give your presence—Respite care means you are willing to be present with the patient so the primary caregiver(s) can run errands or take a brief break. Your presence with the patient, even as short as a few minutes, is an incredible gift for overwhelmed caregivers. A couple of things to keep in mind if you want to help by providing respite care:
- Make sure you are clear on how long you will visit and provide respite care. If you tell the caregiver on the phone you can sit with their loved one for an hour and then arrive saying you can only be present for fifteen minutes, you may only be creating an unnecessary hassle.
- Ask the caregiver if there are any special instructions (medications that need to be taken, foods/liquids not to be taken by the patient) while you are alone with the patient.
- Show up on time. Schedule delays on your part can interrupt a caregiver’s day and unnecessarily interfere with caregiver/patient routines.
- Write down the contact number of the caregiver before he/she leaves in case you need to contact them with a question, concern, etc.
- Adjust to the patients/caregiver’s schedule. Giving help means adjusting your schedule to meet the needs of the caregiver/patient, not asking the caregiver/patient to adjust their schedule to meet your needs. Consistent respite-care visits are most appreciated because they allow caregivers to schedule their day or week in advance.
(2) Nourishment—Providing three meals a day for a loved one (and themselves) can become an unending source of stress for primary caregivers. In many situations, the bedridden patient might have been the primary meal provider/cook before he/she became ill. Providing meals can be of tremendous help and comfort. A couple of things to keep in mind if you want to help by providing food:
- Don’t wait for the caregiver to tell you they need food. It’s difficult for caregivers to ask for help because they may already feel guilty about how much they have already asked for from others, etc. Be consistent. Once a week, call and ask what food/meal you can bring by.
- Ask the caregiver if there are any dietary restrictions/food allergies so you can maximize your cooking efforts and avoid unnecessary problems.
- Arrange for easy drop off of food. Make sure and find out the most convenient (and least intrusive) day/time to bring the food and the best way to drop the food off. Remember, the sleep patterns of the caregiver/patients you are bringing food to may be completely different from yours. The last thing you want to do is awaken someone with an untimely ring of the doorbell. Make drop-off arrangements on the phone in advance to prevent disruption.
- Don’t expect your dishes back. Washing and returning dishes and plates creates too much of a burden on the already-burdened caregiver. Use containers that you don’t expect to see again.