“Keep smilin’, keep shinin’, knowing you can always count on me, for sure. That’s what friends are for.” These lyrics to the song, “That’s What Friends Are For,” were written in 1982 by Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sager. When they composed that tune, it isn’t likely that they had caregiving of loved ones with dementia in mind. Yet, I think this song is very pertinent to the needs of caregivers.
Friends! We need them! Our loved ones need them! My parents taught me the old adage, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Friends are our lifelines.
Caregiving can get overwhelming at times, especially if caregivers don’t have regular breaks from their responsibilities. We all need the deep human bonds of friendship to give us strength, encouragement, and respite from the stresses of life. Isolation is a danger that creeps into the lives of families, particularly at a time when care partners need the most support. As the disease progresses, lifetime friends seem to fade away.
Many times caregivers don’t have the emotional energy to reach out to our family or friends when we need a break from caring. Or we may assume that friends and family should “know enough” to lend a helping hand or a listening ear. When they don’t come through for us, we become disappointed and alone in our caring. The cycle can become a vicious one to the detriment of our health.
It may seem easier to give up on friends or family members when they don’t come to our “rescue,” but it’s important to keep in contact with them. I made sure I wrote periodic e-mails and made regular phone calls to long-distance family members to keep them abreast of Mom’s condition, especially after she had a doctor visit, or an unusual incident. I wanted to give them a sense of what Alzheimer’s disease was like. We can be our own worst enemies if we suffer in silence. We also need to give others a chance to lend a helping hand.
If you are afraid to leave your loved one with a friend or family member, especially if they haven’t been around in awhile, brief them before hand on what to expect. Also, try to prepare your loved one in advance of the visit, as much as is possible.
The Alzheimer’s Association (AA) has a handout of ways for friends to help a family living with Alzheimer’s. You may want to send this post on to your friends and family, saying you would be grateful if they read this. Here are a few of the tips and ideas the AA offers to friends of caregivers:
- Stay in touch – show you care. It doesn’t have to be expensive or take a lot of time, but a card, a phone call, or a short visit can really break up the long day for the caregiver.
- Do the little things. Ask if you can run an errand, pick up an item from the grocery store, bring over a dinner or dessert.
- Be specific when offering help. Ask your friend what they have on their “to do” list. Perhaps it’s mowing the grass, dropping off dry cleaning, mailing a package, shoveling snow, etc.
- Include everyone in activities. Plan a coffee hour, lunch, afternoon tea, or picnic at your place. Have the caregiver friend bring their loved one.
- Be a good listener. Try not to judge, but give support. Just allowing your friend to vent or share their experiences is a gift.
- Treat the person with dementia with respect and dignity. They may not remember who you are, but just enjoying simple things, like a card game, a game of golf, working a puzzle, or listening to music together can help brighten their day.
- Educate yourself about Alzheimer’s. You may hesitate to offer assistance, worrying that you’ll say or do the wrong thing. The person with dementia will likely welcome your contact because they worry that they are a burden to their caregiver.
- Allow the caregiver some personal respite time. Even giving an hour or so of your time once a week can make all the difference to a caregiver. It allows them to take care of their personal needs while you stay with their loved one.
I am Facebook “friends” with a compassionate pastor, Rev. Richard Goodwill. I worked with him for several years on staff at an international relief agency before I retired. In a recent posting, he wrote, “Friends guide us, care for us, confront us in love, console us in times of pain. Friends are free gifts from God.” Even the early Roman philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero, understood the significance of friends in his writing, “Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our griefs.”
I pray that each caregiver has family and friends that come to their aid in times of need. I wish you friendship, peace, and joy in your caregiving today and everyday!
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To hear the song, “That’s What Friends Are For,” go to: https://youtu.be/uqlhBI3ES1s
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Caring for an older adult with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be an isolating experience. But knowing that a larger caregiving community exists helps you feel less alone. The real stories shared in this film shows that there are many people who are facing similar challenges and fears. This 48-minute HBO video is part of “The Alzheimer’s Caregivers Project.” http://www.hbo.com/alzheimers/caregivers.html.
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Create a “Help Calendar” where you can post requests for support from family and friends, like meals, rides to medical appointment, and visits. Check out this website and app: http://lotsahelpinghands.com/.
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Try this fifteen-minute exercise, “How Would You Treat a Friend?:” http://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/how_would_you_treat_a_friend.
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Here are additional recommendations from the Alzheimer’s Association how to help family and friends adjust to the disease: http://www.alz.org/i-have-alz/helping-friends-and-family.asp#friends.
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