Caregivers Need to Realize That Asking Friends for Help Is a Sign of Love Instead of a Burden

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Dad brought a recent newspaper column to my attention. In it, a gentleman wrote that he was caregiving for his wife, who has dementia. He said he wasn’t good at asking people to help him with caregiving duties, but instead wanted people to volunteer when their schedules permitted. I understand that this gentleman did not want to be “a burden” to his friends, but I also think he is not being realistic. Let me explain.

    I have been fortunate to have a cadre of great friends throughout my life. I also was raised by parents who didn’t want to be a burden to their children and friends, and ingrained that lesson into both my brother and me. When Mom experienced severe distress from her Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in 2005, she wouldn’t ask for help. Instead, I jumped in and told her that she needed to move in with me. As I became more aware of how dramatically her memory and moods had changed, I realized that I needed help. I didn’t have any family nearby, so I asked friends instead. Initially, I reached out to my neighbor as well as a former co-worker, both of whom agreed to stay with Mom when I ran errands or attended a day-time graduate class. I also hired a home health care service that sent an aide to my house to sit with Mom while I attended night classes. Within two weeks of her arrival, Mom was exhibiting increasingly erratic behaviors so I asked medical professionals for a geriatric psychiatric evaluation. And two weeks after that, Mom was placed in a locked unit at a nursing home.

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    Mom lived for another two years. Admittedly, I wasn’t in the day-to-day crush of in-person caregiving, but I still was under great emotional, mental and physical strain. And guess what? Most of my friends had no idea what I was going through or what they could do to help me. Furthermore, they had their own very busy lives to lead and when they got a break, thinking about what they could do to help me didn’t top their list. Instead, most opted to do long-put-off chores around their own homes or used the time to do something fun with their significant other.

    I didn’t take their choices personally and eventually realized that they relied on me to tell them what I needed from them.  Slowly but surely, it also finally dawned on me that instead of being a burden, my asking people to help was actually a great sign of love since it gave my friends a chance to do something meaningful for me. It might be going out to a movie to let me mentally escape. It might be going out to lunch or dinner so I could have time to vent about what I was facing. Or on some occasions, friends agreed to be “on call” when I needed a longer break to get out of town. During these periods, friends would agree to let me give their names and phone numbers to the nursing home staff so that the staff could contact my friends if Mom unexpectedly had to go to the hospital. (Fortunately, that never happened.)

    So my advice to the gentleman who is caring for his wife is this: encourage your friends to call you when they have time, but don’t be surprised if they don’t. And consider changing your paradigm that makes you think that you’re a burden if you ask for help. Your friends will be happy if you do give them a specific task to do and will consider performing this task to be a wonderful act of love that honors both you and your wife.

Published On: May 30, 2011