Encouraging Caregivers with Acts of Kindness
One in four Canadians, or more than eight million people across the country, are caring for a family member or friend with a disability, chronic health condition or other issue related to aging. These unpaid or family caregivers help with daily activities such as eating, bathing and dressing and often provide medical support including managing medications, giving injections and caring for wounds. Family caregivers are expert multi-taskers and often do all of this while also juggling their own career and family.
Caregiving can be very meaningful and rewarding, but at times it can also feel like a thankless and lonely job. Caregivers often experience high levels of stress, depression and burnout and their caregiving role can take a toll on their finances, relationships and health and wellbeing. When a caregiver’s work becomes routine, the people in their lives can sometimes forget to acknowledge just how valuable they are. Caregivers often report that even small gestures of kindness can make a big difference in their outlook. If you want to make a family caregiver in your life feel more encouraged and supported, here are some acts of kindness to lift them up.
Family members and friends often ask how the care recipient is doing, without also asking about the caregiver themselves. Caregivers can experience a range of difficult emotions from guilt to anxiety and sometimes, anger. To find out how the carer in your life is coping, pick up the phone, send a text or pop by to ask them directly. Try to not accept, ‘I’m doing okay,’ or ‘I’m fine’ as an answer. Instead, follow up with comments like, ‘It must be so hard,’ or ‘I can’t believe how much you do!’ to encourage them to share their feelings and to help them feel more seen and heard. Keep checking in so they know that you are thinking of them.
Fuel Through Food
A break from meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking—even just for one night—can be such a relief for caregivers. Drop off a homecooked meal that can be frozen as needed or host a meal at your place if they are able to get away from caring demands. Other ideas for showing your love and appreciation through food include: a gift certificate to a local restaurant or an online ordering service, a few meals through a meal kit company or offering to pick up any items on your next grocery run.
Lighten the Load
Many caregivers feel like there are never enough hours in the day. If you want to take something off their plate, rather than asking, ‘What can I do?’, it is often more effective to be specific about how and when you can help. For example, offer to walk their dog every Monday morning, rake leaves this Saturday afternoon, babysit for a scheduled monthly date night, or look into tax credits or government funding opportunities. While you can’t know exactly what they need without some discussion, offers of help can include a job you’re skilled at, a task that is physically or emotionally challenging or something you know they have been putting off for a while.
When someone is so focused on others, they rarely have the time or energy for self-care. And when they do, they may struggle with guilt afterwards. Encourage the caregiver in your life to take breaks and to prioritize their own well-being. Treat them to a massage, spend a day at the spa together (or recreate the experience at home), or sign up for a weekly fitness class. If necessary and possible, organize respite care so they can get away safely. Other nurturing gifts tailored to their personality, like a floral subscription, thoughtful care package, diffuser and essential oils set or new gardening tools will encourage more moments of calm and joy. Self-care looks different for everyone but doing more of the things they enjoy will help to reduce anxiety, tension and burnout so they can provide the best possible care.
Figuring out how to help a caregiver can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t been in this type of role yourself. Know that whatever act of kindness you choose, it will help make the caregiver in your life feel more valued and appreciated and will make their day a little bit easier.
VHA Home HealthCare offers a wide range of home care services to deliver care and support to make life easier and health challenges more manageable. Contact VHA’s Private Services team at 416-489-2500 ext. 4649 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how we can help you or a loved one. You may even have coverage for these services through an extended health benefit plan.