Now What

Now What: Virginia Ingram writes with attitude about the caregiving life, with a special interest in the role of technology.

You really want to help? Don’t ask, do! (14 tips)

You really want to help? Don’t ask, do! (14 tips)


Caregivers always need help: If you really want to give your friend or family member support, I’ve written some tips to help you have a productive conversation.

Whenever someone is dealing with a situation outside of the norm, people have a tendency to say, “Let me know how I can help.” While those words are well-meaning, they’re a bit hollow.

A caregiver is overwhelmed and can’t articulate the help they need, or they don’t want to ask for something the offerer may be unwilling to do.

Here are 14 things you can do for someone in need so you don’t have to say, “Let me know how I can help.”

First and foremost

1. Remember the person needing care is still the same person they’ve always been. They may need help, but they still want to be who they are. If they like death metal, they’re probably not going to be thrilled about the One Direction crap you just brought over for a diversion.

Now the rest

2. Take food over. Food is always appreciated. Be sensitive to any food allergies or restrictions the people you are helping may have. Take Them a Meal or Calendar Care are services you can use to coordinate food delivery from multiple people.

  • Can’t cook? Buy something from a restaurant or a grocery store. I like to take over pizza or one of the meals for 4 you get at the grocery store.
  • Don’t live locally? Order take out or delivery from their favorite restaurant.

3. Clean up. Most people need help keeping the house clean, whether or not they are caregiving. If you don’t have money to spend this is an inexpensive way to help.

  • Clean the bathroom.
  • Clean the kitchen.
  • Clean out a closet.
  • Help children clean their rooms.

4. Rearrange the house. If there is a physical change, the household may need to be reorganized to be better suited for caregiving. Pay attention to the flow of the house and make suggestions you think would optimize the situation. Just don’t push for your suggestions, or have hurt feelings, if the people you are trying to help don’t take you up on your suggestions.

5. Run errands. There are always errands to be attended to.

  • Pick someone up at the airport.
  • Drop off supplies.
  • Return items that were brought over by friends.

6. Take over supplies. Lots of times there are many people coming in and out of the house. Bottled waters, Tupperware, throwaway napkins and plates are helpful for temporarily running a house. Don’t ask someone if they want you to bring over paper supplies – just do it. They’ll use them or they won’t. (p.s.: I will judge you, hardcore, if you use throwaway supplies permanently. THE ENVIRONMENT!!)

7. Fill in as caregiver. The caregiver will need a break. Offer to perform caregiving responsibilities for a few hours. Just remember where they go, or what they do, is none of your business. Life as a caregiver is hard. Everyone relaxes differently.

8. Help the caregiver take care of themselves. Caregivers have a really hard time prioritizing themselves. They don’t want to be a burden. They feel like THEY are not the one who needs help, the person they’re caring for needs help. Bullshit. We all need help. Even people who are not caregivers need help.

Does the caregiver have goals they’re struggling to meet because of responsibilities? Close friends can help with this. If I’m in a caregiver situation and someone from work suggests I need to go exercise, I’m probably not going to be gracious with my response.

9. Implement a system for others who are helping. You don’t want the caregiver to have to reorient you every time you visit. Develop a system for keeping things running that won’t burden them.

10. Help the kids. If there are children in the household, they may need help accomplishing things, too.

  • Homework
  • Room cleaning
  • Learning helpful tasks
  • Going to the movies
  • Getting the opportunity to be a kid

11. Care for animals. Walking the dog or cleaning up after cats can be your responsibility for a period of time. It’s always helpful to have an extra set of hands when there are animals in a home.

12. Look for services. As unique as this situation may be to the caregiver, it’s probably not a unique situation. There may be services in place to help someone going through a transition. The caregiver often doesn’t have time to look for those services. You might. (Google is your friend here.)

13. Bring over a diversion. Pets, movies and cakes would all work as diversions for me. I’m sure you can come up with something similar for someone you care about.

14. Give a small gift to the person doing the most work. They’re probably overwhelmed and feeling invisible. It’s always nice to be noticed.

How do you offer?

Now that you’ve got some ideas, let’s work on your offer. Caregiving situations differ dramatically; some people have short-term needs, but for some, intense caregiving can last several months or years.

  • Show them you’re trying to understand what they’re going through.
  • Offer help.
  • Offer three things you know you can do and let them chose one.

Say something like, “I know your household has been turned upside-down. I’d like to help. I can either run errands for you on Tuesday, bring over dinner tomorrow night or help around the house on Saturday. What would be most helpful right now?”

Parting words

People deal with situations differently. If your good intentions are misperceived, try not to get offended. Something that seems like a bad idea today may be a great idea later in the week.

And keep in mind these tips are useful in lots of situations: Think of a friend who has just brought home a new family member, or lost a friend or family member, or suffered a life-changing situation or is in a long-term caregiving situation. People living at a facility also need help. That person needs help 24 hours a day for just about everything. Someone at a facility can’t get ALL their needs met by paid caregivers.

I’d love to keep adding to this list. Let me know what have you done to help friends or family in need here.

Follow Virginia Ingram on Twitter: @gingin

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Virginia Ingram

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