How to Ask for Help as a Caregiver


August 6, 2022

Do you feel as if you are drowning in caregiver responsibilities with no help in sight? Do you struggle to find the help you need? How often does someone lend you a helping hand? If you are like most caregivers, the answer is not often enough! On average, American caregivers spend 20+ hours a week providing care and most of those caregivers do not get consistent help from other family members.

How to ask for, and receive, help caregiving

Asking for help, and actually receiving it, isn’t always easy. The first step in getting help is the recognition that caregiving is far too big a task to undertake alone. This is true for all caregivers, but particularly for those who are assisting loved ones with multiple needs, or providing round-the-clock care. Some people have a hard time admitting they need help. They feel guilty even thinking they can’t juggle everything themselves, or they believe no one else can do their job as well as they can. They forget that the totality of caregiving, like all jobs, is made up of lots of individual tasks, not all of which are of the same importance, or require the same skills.

Step 1 – Make a list

Caregiving is not only physical but also an emotional experience. One way to get a handle on the help you need is to create a very unemotional list of all the things that need to get done – cooking meals, mowing the lawn, filling out insurance forms, driving your care recipient to the doctor, helping them dress. Making the list is fairly easy. It’s also a great way to vent your anger and frustration because it shows you in “black and white” that you really do have a lot on your plate!

Step 2 – Categorize your list

Once you’ve got your list of tasks, group them into distinct categories – personal care, household chores, transportation, etc. Then make another list of all the things that you worry about – what will happen if your husband falls out of his wheelchair when you’re not home, where will you get the money to pay for medications your insurance doesn’t cover? Group your worries into categories, such as emergency situations, financial issues, your own health.

Go ahead – make your list! There’s no pure science to it. You may find it difficult to get started, but you’re bound to feel better once you’re done because, finally, all the things you do will have a name and fit into logical categories.

Step 3 – Analyze your list

Next, review your list and decide which items you hate doing, items you enjoy, and which ones you believe that you really must continue to do yourself. If, after reviewing your list, you decide you can’t possibly allow someone else to do any of the tasks, then you need to review your list again. The idea isn’t to prove how indispensable you are, but to help you improve the quality of your life, and that of your loved one as well.

Now that you’ve identified your priorities, you have a very useful document. Your list can be a source of strength and your means of managing all the myriad things you have to do because it identifies which tasks can be delegated to others. You can use it to reach out for help with dignity, and from a position of knowledge.

Step 4 – Congratulate yourself

Now that you’ve made your list, organized it, and analyzed it, pat yourself on the back. You’ve accomplished a great deal, and you should be proud of yourself. Putting things down on paper, and organizing them into groups, has a way of clearing the air by creating order out of what seemed like so much disorder. It serves another purpose as well. It gives you a tool to use in helping yourself get help, and that is its real benefit.

Asking for help with a list in hand is very different from complaining about your situation.

You will be seen as a highly resourceful person who is seeking help in dealing with a very difficult situation. When you can do that, you will inevitably find people who can either give you some of the help you need, or help you find others that can.

There are some people out there who are saying right now that there isn’t one solitary soul that they can share their list with, but that isn’t true. There is always someone: a good friend, another family member, a caregiver support group. What about the nurse in your doctor’s office, a clergyman, or the employee assistance counselor at work, a benefits counselor from your Area Agency on Aging? The first person you share your list with may or may not actually help you themselves, but they can give you the benefit of their ideas, and two brains focused on solving a problem is always more powerful than just one.

There’s another benefit as well, in the process of sharing your list, you’ll also be sharing your thoughts and feelings thereby lessening your isolation and gaining some of the support you need to sustain you until you’re able to get the actual physical help you now know you want and need.

Source: Caregiver Action Network, caregiver research, and personal experience. 

We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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