Since my mother’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia a few years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to meet caregivers and their allies. Each time, I feel such awe and humility as they’re inevitably some of the most generous, patient, and deeply courageous people you’ll ever meet.
The caregiving experience for a loved one with dementia can feel particularly isolating and draining. According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s report, Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, “compared with caregivers of people without dementia, twice as many caregivers of those with dementia indicate substantial emotional, financial and physical difficulties.”
Do you have a friend or family member who serves as a caregiver (or “care partner”) for a loved one with dementia or other condition?
Do you want to do something thoughtful for them, but not sure what would be most helpful?We’ve included thoughtful ways you can offer some respite and joy for the caregivers in your life, regardless of how close or far away you live from them.
OFFER SOLIDARITY AND ONGOING EMOTIONAL SUPPORT TO HELP CAREGIVERS PRIORITIZE TO THEIR HEALTH.
The Alzheimer’s Association notes that about 35% of caregivers report their health has worsened due to care responsibilities, compared to 19% of caregivers for older people without dementia.
One caregiver I spoke with had joined an intramural softball team and said that, due to the built-in accountability and not wanting to be a no-show for her team, she ends up getting much-needed exercise (and fun!) a few times a week.
Offer to exercise together while working around the caregiver’s demanding schedule or encourage ways to involve more exercise or healthy practices into their routine. For instance, you can also encourage the caregiver to consider stress reduction apps, such as Calm, or to subscribe to an online yoga class , or give them Groupon certificates for massages (if it’s difficult for the caregiver to find time to leave the house though, then perhaps consider a massage service that comes to their home).
ATTEND A SUPPORT GROUP TOGETHER OR, IF DESIRED, HELP THEM FIND A GOOD THERAPIST.
If attending an in-person group isn’t feasible though, then an online support group could be a great resource. You can find groups through the Alzheimer’s Association, Meetup, and the Family Caregiver Alliance.
During the first year after my mother’s diagnosis, I sought out a therapist and was fortunate to find someone who was a great fit for me and what I needed at that time. She had served as a caregiver for both of her parents and later for her husband. She helped me get through the early stages of grieving and helped me regain perspective about what I would come to encounter with my mom and her condition.
If the caregiver in your life has already expressed a desire to see a therapist or you feel comfortable broaching the subject, check out these suggestions in Psychology Today for how to find a good one.
For caregivers who struggle with boundaries as a highly sensitive (or empathic person), check out the resources in our article, “8 Fantastic Blogs for Empathic and Highly Sensitive People (HSP).”
FIND RESPITE OPTIONS FOR THE CAREGIVER SO THEY GET OCCASIONAL BREAKS.
Caregivers often don’t have (or feel they don’t have) time for themselves, so if you feel comfortable, offer respite care yourself or to cover the cost of respite care by professional in-home care services while making sure they’re qualified to meet the specific care needs of the caregiver’s loved one with dementia.
Another option is to apply for a respite grant with or on behalf of the caregiver. A respite grant gives caregivers a needed break by allowing the respective loved one with dementia to receive respite care and the grants can be used for in-home care, adult day care, or for a short-term stay at an assisted living community.
Here are a few places you can find respite programs:
- Laona M. Kitchen Foundation (LMK)
- National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP)
- ARCH –The National Respite Locator Service
- Veterans Affairs (VA) Caregiver Support
- Road Scholar’s Caregiver Grants
EASE THE DEMANDS OF GROCERY SHOPPING AND MEAL PREPARATION.
If finding the time and energy for grocery shopping or meal preparation are difficult for the caregiver, consider a grocery delivery service or meal kit plans delivered to their home. Make sure their address is within the delivery service area and also find out if the caregiver prepares meals for their loved one as well, and whether the chosen service will be a good fit for their dietary needs too.
However, if the caregiver has difficulty with finding good quality produce but does enjoy cooking, another option is to get them a membership for a community-supported agriculture (CSA) that delivers so they can gain access to wonderful produce (typically seasonal, locally grown, and organic) grown by regional farmers. Find a local CSA here.
Or, if you live nearby, offer to pick up groceries or make occasional meals. Nothing shows love like a thoughtfully-made meal or a kind gesture. While considering your caregiver’s schedule, either leave the prepared meal for them or if time allows, see if they’re down for enjoying it together.
HANDLE DELAYED HOUSEHOLD CHORES OR PROJECTS.
Does the caregiver in your life have certain household chores or projects that have been put on hold for some time? Home repairs or updates? Moving or installing furniture? To help them out, hire someone from a freelance labor service like TaskRabbit to finish that project in no time and take something off your caregiver’s plate.
HELP CAREGIVERS TO RE-INTRODUCE SOURCES OF JOY BACK INTO THEIR LIFE.
What are some things the caregiver typically enjoys doing for fun, relaxation, and joy? Reading? Gardening? Hiking?
Help the caregiver to bring that experience (or something like it) more regularly into their life again.
For instance, if time for reading isn’t as available, then you could offer them a subscription to a service like Audible, so they can enjoy audio books more often during their commutes. Or if going on a hike or gardening isn’t as doable, then perhaps you can try to bring some nature to them in the form of a beautiful terrarium or succulent garden, or gift a special Airbnb Experience in their area.
And remember, if you don’t live in the same town at the caregiver, you can offer to do these activities remotely at the same time or plan on talking after an experience to foster solidarity.
OFFER CHILDCARE OR PET-SITTING HELP.
PARTICIPATE IN AN EVENT OR DONATE TOWARDS DEMENTIA-RELATED RESEARCH AND ORGANIZATIONS.
For instance, you could gather friends and family to rally and participate in a local End Alzheimer’s Walk in honor of the caregiver and their respective loved one living with dementia. Check out the different ways you can get involved here.
And again, because caregiving can feel isolating, above all, show the caregivers in your life that you care about them by offering them words of solidarity, compassion, and love:
Hey, what you and your loved one are going through is incredibly tough, but I’m here and I’m not going anywhere, and I want to help.
This speaks volumes. Check in on them regularly. Talk to them about stuff that isn’t just caregiving related, but also allow space for that too if they want to talk about it.
Are there other resources or creative gift ideas you think are amazing and should be added to this list? Please let us know in the comments below.