One of my recent articles published here was 5 Things to Never Say to a Person Who Has Alzheimer's. Today's article focuses on things to never say to an Alzheimer's caregiver.
There are several things you should never say. Here are three important ones:
1. "What a Shame:"
You may think it's a shame the person has developed Alzheimer's and that's fair. It is a shame. However, it could well be possible that the loved one - the caregiver - does not think it's a shame. This statement tends to diminish the person with the illness, which can make the caregiver feel bad. Of course it is an unfortunate circumstance, but you don't have to say so unless you're sure the loved one feels the same way.
2. "Let Me Know if I Can Do Anything to Help:"
This statement may initially sound fine - after all you're wanting to be helpful and that's wonderful. Alzheimer's caregivers have a tough job and they often have little help. "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help" puts the ball in the caregiver's court. The caregiver has to take the initiative to ask for your help. Oftentimes caregivers are reluctant to ask for help.
It would be better to change the statement ever so slightly to "Tell me how I can help." This is more likely to elicit specific things you could do.
Even better would be for you to assess the situation and then offer to help with one or more specific tasks. For example, you might say, "Can I help out by staying with your loved one for a half day each week so you can get some respite?" Or, "Can I mow you lawn every week?" Or, "I'd like to come over for coffee every week and just talk about your situation." This would be very helpful since caregivers often feel isolated. They usually find that friends, relatives and neighbors disappear when their loved one has Alzheimer's.
You get the idea. This lets the caregiver know you really want to help out. Saying "let me know if I can help" can sound like an insincere formality. It may lead to the caregiver feeling like you don't really want to help them.
3. "It's a Blessing" (When the Person Passes Away):
Some caregivers may feel it's a blessing their loved one has died and if they say so, then it's okay to agree with them. A variation on this less than optimal statement is "He's in a better place." But some caregivers may not feel this way. They are deep in the clutches of grief and may be sorry the person died, not matter how advanced their state of disease was. Saying it's a blessing will tend to minimize their grief.
Furthermore, saying "It's a blessing" to a person who is not religious may sound hollow and empty. It shows that either you don't know the person very well or that you are disregarding their lack of religiosity.
Instead you might want to simply acknowledge their loss by saying the more traditional standby, "I'm sorry for your loss." Thus you've acknowledged their grief and shown your regret at that loss.
Does anyone have other ideas for things you shouldn't say to an Alzheimer's caregiver?