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Caregiving Help: How to Ask for What You Need

By Mary Jo DiLonardo
WebMD Feature

You may be juggling your family or career while taking care of a parent. Or maybe it's both parents and your own health needs. Whatever caregiving situation you’re in, you don't have to do it alone.

Form your network early on

Don't wait until you need help to try to find it. Start now by getting a circle of friends, family, and community members you can tap into when you need them.

Start making a list of people you can count on. When a person offers help, put them on your list right away.

Others may want to help, but don't know how to offer. So ask them yourself. Sometimes email is easier than asking in person. It also gives people time to think about how they would like to help and when.

"Help comes in so many forms. It could even be somebody who's gathering information for you so you know what help is out there," says Suzanne Mintz, founder of Family Caregiver Advocacy and author of A Family Caregiver Speaks Up.

In her case, Mintz has asked several strong male neighbors to be on standby if her husband, who has multiple sclerosis, falls and can't get up.

Check caregiver support groups and message boards, your church resources, and paid options like home health care aides. Your local Area Agency on Aging can connect you to support groups and resources in your community.

Give specific tasks

When people offer to help, ask them to do something specific when you can. Can they bring a meal, give a ride to a doctor's appointment, or come over and spend an hour talking to your loved one? Find out which days and times they're available, so you know when you can count on them.

Clinical psychologist Barry J. Jacobs, author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers, knew a caregiver who kept a list of detailed chores ready to go. "She would whip out a box of index cards and say, 'Pick one,'" he says. "It's important to nail people down for specific tasks."

Why not do the same thing? When you have some time, make a list -- or use an Internet site or app -- to record all the things that you need to get done. Include everything from cleaning the house to helping your loved one get dressed to paying the bills. That will help you have jobs ready to go the next time someone asks to help.

It will also help you realize how much you do and why it's so important for you to get help.

Take a caregiver vacation

Sometimes you need a longer break from caregiving -- maybe a couple of days or weeks when you can just take care of yourself. Consider respite care -- a brief rest while your loved one is given the support they need. This could be at home or in a skilled nursing facility.

"Respite care allows caregivers to freshen up a little bit and get the energy to keep going," Jacobs says. He once had a patient who didn't go anywhere. She used her break just to catch up on sleep and clean her own home.

"That period of time strengthened her and helped her feel like a human being again after having really worn herself down," Jacobs says. "A lot of caregivers are really resistant to [respite care] because they feel guilty. But it is a very good idea."

For regular care during the day, consider adult day care. Some centers provide social activities so older adults can meet people, learn new things, and go on outings. Others focus on medical or Alzheimer's care. The goal is to offer a safe, enjoyable place for your loved one.

Reviewed on April 28, 2014

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