How to Support Someone Who is Ill

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 24, 2021
4 min read

Supporting a sick family member or loved one is a noble thing to do. Family members and loved ones all over the world ensure that millions of people’s quality of life stays high. However, it is well-documented that the people who care for the sick and elderly can suffer from stress and burnout. Therefore, it is vital to understand how to plan and manage taking care of yourself while you take care of others. 

Organization is key in avoiding stress or unneeded commotion when taking care of someone ill. Ways to prepare yourself are:

  • Plan out the day in advance. Make realistic goals and prioritize your tasks. 
  • Tap into your support network. Create a list of other friends and family members who are available to assist you. Ask them if they can either be support caretakers or backup for when you are unable to take care of your loved one. 
  • Create a schedule that utilizes your support network. Get organized with all the resources you possess. Think about how you can give your loved one 24 hour support or at least emergency support. Making sure you have others available in a pinch. Not being on call 24/7 is vital for your longevity. 
  • Give yourself a break once in a while. Manage the expectations you have for yourself. Don’t burn out or pressure yourself to accomplish more than is comfortable or possible for you. 
  • Know yourboundaries. Get clear on what you are and are not willing to do. Sometimes you may have to say no, even to your loved one. 
  • Make relationships with your loved one’s healthcare team. Your ill loved one’s healthcare team is vital for their continued health. Having relationships with them and being able to speak candidly and directly with them will allow you both to more effectively help your loved one. 

Problem-solving is key to caretaking. While you may problem solve in all areas of your life, caretaking presents very specific types of problems to solve. Some tips for how to delve into these issues are to:

  • Identify any issues that currently exist in your situation. Research local resources where you can get help. 
  • Have a plan premade in case the person you are supporting gets worse or changes in any way. First, figure out any problems or services they might need. Then, come up with action plans for different or worse scenarios.
  • Compile a list of important contact information. For example, put any relevant doctor’s phone numbers, emergency services, and numbers of other caregivers in a central place in your loved one’s house. Write them down for yourself as well.
  • Take a moment and methodically proceed for both bigger and smaller challenges. Identify your issue, think of solutions, weigh the solutions, try what you have thought of, and then evaluate if it works.

Caring for someone with an illness on a regular basis is extremely taxing mentally, emotionally, and physically. If you don’t stop and decompress, you will burn out. In addition, you can become sick or fatigued from the stress of it all. 

Usually, these types of symptoms happen when you don’t have the support you need. That support could either be financial or physical and can lead to serious mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, and fatigue. However, caregivers often find themselves feeling guilty about taking time and space for themself when someone they love is ill.

Here are some things to remember:

  • You are not alone! Work with other loved ones and healthcare professionals to support your loved one.
  • Try and keep a positive outlook on supporting your ill loved one.
  • Practice self-care.
  • Maintain healthy boundaries. Don’t do more than you are comfortable with or did not previously agree to.
  • Accept that you can’t do it all. Everyone needs help, so why shouldn’t you?
  • When you need it, don’t hesitate to get help.
  • Draw on your spirituality or worldviews to give you strength, and encourage your loved one to do the same.
  • Maintain a clear line of communication with your ill loved one.
  • Rely on the healthcare workers in your support network.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations for your loved one’s prognosis and your caretaking abilities.
  • Join a support group for caretakers.
  • Read up on the illness that your loved one has.
  • Learn how to plan financially and legally.

Often when you are ill, you can feel scared and unconfident that your treatment will be successful. But, simply helping your loved one believe that they can do it will go a long way. 

You can help them by:

  • Starting slow. Perhaps if the person you are supporting has issues moving, encourage them to begin to take steps to the bathroom slowly. This can be an everyday process over a long period of time. Be sure to encourage without pushing them.
  • Repeat the encouragement. Be stubborn in encouraging them to make progress. Say it every day, and don’t give up.
  • Remind them of their progress. If, for example, they take two steps one day but cannot walk the next day, remind them of those two steps! Not every day will be a progress day, and that is okay.
  • Show compassion. Be kind to your loved one. Letting them know you understand their struggles can help them feel cared for and seen as a person.
  • Don’t say empty things. Avoid telling your loved one to tell them to ask for help or things of that nature. If they are ill, they will most likely not ask for help if they are seriously sick. Instead, take the initiative and offer support when you think they need it.