Asking for Help: What Works, What Doesn't

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Every caregiver needs help. But you usually have to ask for it. Here are some tips on how to get the help you need from family and friends.

3 Things That Work

  • Be as specific as possible about what you need. Describe the exact task you need help with, whether it's driving your loved one to a podiatrist appointment, sitting with the person while you go out for an hour, or having a prescription picked up for you.

  • Prep the volunteer well so he or she isn't freaked out (and becomes disinclined to help again). Write down as many details as you can about mealtimes, preferences, and unusual behaviors (such as wandering or forgetting to eat) to make it easier on the volunteer.

  • Offer trades. Even though you're super-busy as a caregiver, look for ways you can present exchanges for someone else's time or effort. Money is the easiest option, but it's not an option at all for many strapped caregivers. Could you trade parent-sitting with a friend who's also a dementia caregiver? Ask someone to sit with a spouse while you go grocery shopping, and do your friend's shopping at the same time? Say thank you with baked goods or a knitted sweater?

3 Things That Don't Work

  • Hinting. You can drop hints until you're blue in the face, but busy (or oblivious) friends may never pick up on them. Nobody's a mind reader; speak up.

  • Guilt-tripping. If you try to goad, say, siblings into stepping up to the plate, they'll be starting from a place of resentment and anger. Don't make it about you, which can bring up all kinds of unresolved issues, but about enriching the person with dementia.

  • Expecting. Simply assuming someone should help you will only feed your own resentment and anger. Let go of expectations for others' behaviors and instead take a firm look at your specific needs and how to solve them. Present the problem, not the obligation, to would-be helpers.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio

over 4 years, said...

I have a list of things that I keep on updating in my computer called taking care of mother. I have realized that my brothers are not here all the time, and do not see and have not yet accepted how much care mother needs. It totally upset my brother when we left mother at his house, that mother had greeted his wife with the information that his daughter and I had deserted her here, and there was a strange man in the bedroom. He then told me that he was hoping that I would come in at least once a week, and dropped her off for a few hours, but he didn't know if it would be possible now. I now see that I really should go in every week, and drop her off with him on a regular basis, so that she does not forget who he is and having her become upset at being at his home. It will be worth the gas money. This

over 5 years, said...

My relatives took a giant step backward when Mother needed help. That's where they stayed, even when we begged for respite. When our marriage started failing, When our health started failing. When our jobs were in jeapordy. Things changed when Mother offered $$$$$, and lots of it. Of course, WE got the lecture about duty.

over 5 years, said...

Excellent points! Be specific. Keep lists of what patient needs. Piver

over 5 years, said...

Very nice article. I can vouch for the things that don't work, and I can vouch for the things that this article says works. Thank you Paula for all the insight that you provide!

over 5 years, said...

Simple and easy to do tips.

over 5 years, said...

OK good advice, but how nice it is when someone offer spontaneously to help!