Self Caring

Caregivers' 8 Least Favorite "Helpful" Comments

Last updated: May 09, 2011

When a group of eldercare workers I met last week learned that I write about self care for caregivers, the subject turned to ways that friends and family unwittingly stress caregivers out. Said a social worker, "One of my clients complains that her sister says, every single time they talk on the phone, 'You should get out more, Hon!' But she's totally oblivious to the fact that it's really hard for her sister to do that and she never offers to help!"

Knowing nods and gently shaking heads encircled the group. Then the others began to share stories. The lesson for me: What people say can be just as stressful as what they do (or fail to do).

Here, my informal collection of "Helpful" Comments That Caregivers Hate to Hear:

  • "Wow, you look worn out!""

Uh, this is what sleep deprivation plus worry plus fear look like, thanks. You're gorgeous, too!

  • "You know my number."

Does that mean I can call you for help, and you're willing to really come through and help me with something, is that what you're saying? So could you drive Mom to the podiatrist on Thursday at 3? Or pick up a list of groceries for me every week when you do your shopping? Or come play cards with my dad this afternoon while I run to my yoga class?

  • "Oh my mom/sister/brother/grandfather had that, and it was awful!"

Hard to say which inspires more gorey stories, caregiving or childbirth. Which is ironic, considering that they both have sweet sides. I don't need to be scared; I need to be empowered.

  • "I don't think that's the way you're supposed to do it"¦"

But I'm doing it. See?

  • "I can tell you're've put on a little weight."

Don't. Tell. This. To. Anybody!

  • "How long does he have left?"

Show me your magic wand and I'll show you my crystal ball. Let's change the subject to something less depressing.

  • "You should get out more!"

Why, truer words were never spoken. What are we going to do about them?

  • "Do you worry that you'll get it too?"

Alzheimer's/cancer/Parkinson's/COPD/pneumonia/most diseases of old age aren't contagious, like the flu. Let's cope with one case at a time, please.

Heard any doozies yourself? Add to our list -- or share how you respond to unhelpful comments.