Why Aren’t Family Caregivers Asking for Help?
By Sally Abrahms
A new AARP study shows that only 46 percent of family caregivers ask for, or look for, help. That means there are a lot of haggard and harried family members who are doing the care themselves. And, no surprise here—it’s often one adult child (typically a daughter and/or child who lives closest) who does more than her fair share—sometimes way more.
Why is asking for help so hard? Do family caregivers not want it, or are they just not doing anything to get it?
We know that one in charge often neglects their own health and needs. We also know that they may be performing complex medical tasks, thanks to increasingly brief hospital stays.
What Are They Thinking?
Over the years, caregivers have given me many reasons for going it alone. Here are the top ten:
- If I request help, my siblings will view me as selfish and uncommitted
- A control issue: No one can do as good a job or get it “right”
- My parent refuses help, guilt trips me or insists that I do everything
- I guilt trip myself. I’ll feel bad if I don’t do it all. The adult child may be trying to make up for the past, or improve it.
- No one else has stepped up. (Hmm, have you asked?)
- Hiring help is too expensive. It may be the case, but might your Mom and siblings just not want to part with their money?
- My siblings are jockeying for power or reverting to old family dynamics—The Favorite, The Chosen, The Most Reliable, The Caver and Yes “Man” or The Selfless One
- I don’t know how or where to get help—or how to ask for it
- No time
- I don’t trust outside help (“strangers”). How do I know what they’re doing when I’m not there?
Quick Strategies for Getting Help
- Change your mindset. Realize that asking for help is smart, not selfish. You know the expression “Many hands make light work”? It was coined by a 16th British playwright. And, 500 or so years later, it’s still true.
- Test the waters. Ask for something little. Can your brother take Mom on an errand, to an appointment, out to lunch, or stay with her while you duck out?
- Offer choices. Provide options so sibs can decide what they can do. Consider each family member’s strengths. If a sister is organized, can she manage care coordination?
- Be inclusive. They may want to help but are given go-away vibes. Keep family members informed and able to access health information. Is it easier through an app (i.e. CaringBridge or CareZone), email or conference call?
- Think outside the family box. Can a nearby niece be on the care team or at least a backup in an emergency? How about a friend or neighbor? An Aging Life Care Professional (aka geriatric care manager) can put all the moving parts together and knows community resources.
- Have resources in your back pocket just in case.
- Your Area Agency on Aging
- Organizations such as the National Alliance for Caregiving, Caregiver Action Network, Family Caregiver Alliance and AARP
- Online websites like the Family Caregiver Council
- Their local senior center or Town Hall.
- Your company may provide eldercare help to employees. They may range from flextime to elder care resource and referral services, Dependent Care Assistance Plans, access to senior care advisors and financial and legal experts
- Have your list before there’s a crisis. You will have many more options and it will be right there!
Could another sibling pay Dad’s bills online or take charge of house repairs? How about ferrying Mom to adult day care or arranging for her to get there?
If Mom lives at home, there may be a “village” in her area. It’s a members’ neighborhood organization that often provide transportation, vetted service providers referrals (home repair, a dog walker) and hold social get-togethers and events (movie, traveling, a yoga class).
It’s possible that you or your family member doesn’t want help. Others need to respect those wishes. But at least you’ll know the next step if circumstances or attitudes change. Caregiving is not a one man—or woman--job!