Well-meaning family members and friends often feel awkward and uncomfortable in conversations with someone who is affected by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and with their caregivers.
Though the intentions of others may be sincere, oftentimes the caregiver misunderstands and takes exception to comments from others and can become resentful of the unasked for advice.
First, if you offer help, by all means follow through. It is difficult for caregivers to ask for and accept help. So if you offer assistance and they accept, be ready to keep your commitment.
When offering help, be very specific. For instance, instead of being vague and saying something like, “let me know if you need any help,” you might tell your friend, “I’m bringing lunch for you tomorrow. Do you and your mom have a favorite food?” In other words, don’t ask what you can do to help. Outline your intentions and just do them.
Alzheimer’s caregivers are always being told the importance of self-care but reminding the caregiver of this can cause some tension and/or agitation from the caregiver. Most caregivers are very aware of their need to take care of themselves, but with the daily responsibilities and tasks that are placed upon them, self-care is a lofty aspiration.
Perhaps you could mention to your friend that you could stay with her mom so she could have some much-needed “me-time.” In this way, your offer to take over some caregiving responsibilities to give her a little respite wouldn’t sound as demonstrative as just saying, “You need to take care of yourself.” It’s a good idea not to preface conversations with her with the “You need to …” phrase.
In conversations with your friend, be mindful of the words you say and the way you say them. They can be misunderstood. As her friend, simply listening and being attentive are wonderful gifts. Your friend needs that support and should be allowed to express her feelings and thoughts openly and without judgment about her caregiving experience.
Allow her to share the “nitty-gritty” of the Alzheimer’s journey with her mom and in doing so, you can gain great insights that can prompt you with ways to respond more gently and compassionately to your friend.
In the future months and/or years when your friend is struggling with the challenges of caregiving, know that there will be times when she experiences a range of emotions from sadness to joy, from anger and resentment, from feelings of being blessed by being her mom’s caregiver to feelings of resentment that she is burdened and feels alone in the journey. In those times, you might feel your friendship is seemingly one-sided, that you feel she is neglecting the relationship you have with each other. However, be patient with your friend and realize the tremendous pressures and responsibilities she has and always give her positive feedback about her caregiving practices.
What your friend needs more than anything is someone who is truly present for her and who listens wholeheartedly and without hesitation in her times of need.