Alzheimer's Foundation of America

Foundation of America

10 Ways to Support Your Caregiver Friends

by Marion Yoder

Are you the friend of any of the 11 million Americans caring for someone undergoing brain change? At 71, with friends of all ages, I certainly am.

My experience with a good friend’s brain change began in earnest when we were both in our 60s. Another old friend, now in his late 70s, began the brain change journey more recently. We go back some 40 years; he still knows who I am. She doesn’t, but she knows we’re friends.

I’ve watched many other people in their 60s decline and die as a result of Lewy Body and other forms of dementia. My heart has ached for everyone, but I’ve learned caregivers need more than a friend’s aching heart. It’s possible, and even simple, to transform empathy into concrete action. The main thing is to be there when needed for them.

Here’s what I’ve found helps to support a caregiver:

1. Don’t require them to talk about their loved one’s condition. Let them talk about it if, and when, they choose.

2. When the conversation does turn in that direction, don’t pity or patronize.

3. Do NOT misidentify the condition. Some caregivers become indignant at this, specifying that their loved one “does not have Alzheimer’s.” Refrain from using any descriptive name.

4. When with the couple socially, do NOT direct your attention exclusively to the caregiver or talk around the person whose brain is changing. That’s belittling to both. I know several caregivers to whom this has happened, in some instances years ago. It’s still painfully remembered.

5. Let the caregiver know you’re there, whether in person, by phone, card, email or text.

6. Don’t insist on giving help but offer it kindly and regularly.

7. If you find information about something that may interest the caregiver, such as respite care, give it to them but don’t follow up. If they want to use it, they will.

8. Sincerely offer the caregiver a real change of pace. Let them tell you what they’d like and do your best to make it happen.

9. Be there when you say you will.

10. Repeat the above.

Feel free to share this article with friends to help them understand what you may need as a caregiver.

About the Author: Marion Yoder spent 40 years practicing law but now devotes her time to volunteer work and writing. She’s lived many places but was born in Wyoming, where she lives now with her husband, Terry Roker.

This article was adapted from a print version which appeared in AFA’s Alzheimer’s TODAY magazine.