In 2015, an AARP report estimated the economic value of family caregivers’ unpaid work at $470 billion a year. But this free labor comes with hidden costs. Caregivers often find themselves socially isolated, which studies show is detrimental to physical and mental health. Research also finds that caregivers are at higher risk for certain health conditions and that they generally report poorer health than the general population.
If you have a friend or family member providing care for a loved one, reach out. Here are seven ways to offer support:
Call or visit regularly. Social connections can buffer the loneliness that sometimes goes with caregiving.
Be a good listener. You don’t have to have all the answers; just be a sympathetic ear without judgment.
Provide respite. Sit with the loved one so that the caregiver has time for self-care, whether that’s taking a walk, attending a yoga class, going to church or a support group – or even getting a haircut or manicure. If you can’t provide the respite yourself – perhaps because you live out of town, consider offering to pay for a few hours of personal care services weekly. Depending on the loved one’s health, ElderServe’s Adult Day Health Center might also be an option.
Run errands, whether that’s picking up groceries, prescriptions, or drycleaning.
Bring over food and visit over a meal. Nutrition can go on the back burner under the strain of caregiving. People tend to eat better in the good company of others.
Help them find community resources for support. ElderServe’s care managers are quite knowledgeable in this area.
Offer to do some household tasks. Maybe that’s mowing the grass or mopping floors – whatever lightens the load.
Caring for a loved one can simultaneously be rewarding and taxing – but it shouldn’t come at the cost the caregiver’s health. As a community, we all have a stake in supporting one another as we age.