A Dozen Things You Should Never Say To A Caregiver

These comments, even if well-meaning, won't go over well.
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About one in three Americans is providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or elderly, according to a 2015 survey from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving. In that same study, 78 percent of the caregivers said they needed help.

We asked caregivers on Facebook and elsewhere what they wish their well-meaning relatives and friends would stop saying to them. Here is some of what we heard:

1. "I could never do what you do."

Never say never. Nobody actually knows if or when they will be thrust into the role of caregiving. In many cases, it happens unexpectedly and abruptly; other times, it's a gradual assumption of duties. People step up when a loved one needs help. Whether you think you will be up to the task when your time comes is pretty irrelevant to someone already doing it.

2. "You are so brave."
Facebook reader and caregiver Linda Gregory would like everyone to know that "Brave has nothing to do with it." She also has been told that caregiving is her "duty," to which she frostily asks, "Where is that written?"

3. "If you ever need a break, just call me."

This is something to only be said if you really mean it. And when the caregiver asks you if you can stay with Mom next Tuesday, don't answer "Aw shucks, that's my tennis game. Sorry, maybe next time."

4. "Let me know what I can do to help?"

This is the first cousin to "if you ever need a break, just call me." Facebook reader Barbara Snyder suggests that instead of a vague offer of help, one should say: "I am bringing dinner to your home. What night is best for you? Would you prefer chicken, beef, or pasta?" The worse thing to say, "Let me know what I can do to help."

Brenda Cluff agrees. "Don't ask, just do it." She suggests "throw in some laundry, buy a bag of groceries, shovel the snow, wash the car, walk the dog, sit with the patient [so that] the caregiver has a free hour or two, bring coffee and a newspaper, do the dishes, vacuum the house, clean the bathroom -- the list is endless."

5. "I'm sure he/she appreciates it."

Maybe the care recipient does and maybe he/she doesn't. In either case, you have no way of knowing. And in the event that the caregiver isn't feeling much in the way of gratitude, all this comment does is remind her of that.

6. "She is so blessed to have you."

If she was truly blessed she wouldn't have had the stroke that left her unable to care for herself. Best to leave G-d out of this.

7. "G-d never gives us more than we can handle."

See #6. Julie Ferguson says this is absolutely the least favorite thing she hears. "When people say God doesn't give you more than you can handle? Hate that!!!!"

8. "You are lucky because you have siblings that can help."

That one is akin to waving a red flag in front of a bull. Helene Apper says that there is always one child in the family who steps up to take care of things. "My siblings see my mother maybe on an average of once every 8-10 weeks and they live 1.5 hours away by car. They stay for lunch -- sometimes even overnight and then leave. I have to fly in and am there for 5 days a month."

9. "You really must make time for yourself, you know."

This is not an enlightening comment. It is not supportive, not helpful, and frankly, it is empty meaningless words. Of course the caregiver knows that making time for herself is important. The reality is that her charge can't be left alone. See #3.

10. "Do you actually have to bathe her?"

Since Grandma is not a cat who can lick herself clean, what do you think the answer is? Caregivers perform a wide swath of duties to help their elderly relatives maintain their dignity and try to bring some comfort and joy to their lives. It is not a job for the squeamish. But more to the point, why would you invade someone's privacy like this just to solve your own curiosity?

11. "You shouldn't have to sacrifice your life for your mother's."

Caregivers got the job because they are loving people who are trying to do the right thing. When a friend or family member comes along and says this, they are making a judgement about what the caregiver chooses to do with their life. Got an opinion? Save it for your own situation.

12. "Let's not talk about that. Let's talk about something happy and fun."

Friends listen to friends, no matter what they want or need to talk about. Caregivers need and want to talk about what's going on -- the same as you need to gripe about your crazy boss, your son's annoying teacher, and the vacation you have planned. OK, so maybe it wasn't fun taking Mom to the doctor and waiting an hour to be seen. Listen anyway.

Readers, have anything you'd like to add in the comments below?

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