By Kristine Dwyer
Through many years of working with caregivers, I have been continually reminded of the great importance of friends, especially during the challenges of caregiving years. I have also felt the sadness and loneliness that caregivers’ feel when friends drift away at a time when they are needed most.
“You sure find out who your friends are!” is a familiar comment expressed by caregivers that can be both positive and negative. The loyalty and support of close friends can make a world of difference with even the most difficult caregiving situations. Friends can serve as lifelines for caregivers who find themselves facing despair. However, caregivers also experience a great loss when relatives, neighbors and lifetime friends seem to fade away as a disease progresses or dementia increases in the person being cared for.
Here are some ideas that may be helpful to prevent the loss of friends:
- We must do our best to educate others about our loved one’s disease or illness as many are unaware of or even fearful toward progressive medical conditions. One caregiver wrote a letter to family members and friends after he was told that his spouse was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. He explained the meaning of the diagnosis and how he needed their help and support. The letter dispelled fears and opened up communication between them.
- Let others know how they can help. Keep a list of ideas handy and be specific so others can easily step in to assist you. Friends can serve as respite providers, drivers, phone companions, errand helpers and visitors. One neighbor offered to take a man out for a ride and to a coffee shop every Saturday morning so that his caregiver could have her hair done and pick up groceries. Both parties were served with just a few hours of help each week.
- Nurture present relationships, reach out for new friendships and show appreciation to those who have been able to stand by you through the years. A handwritten thank you or verbal acknowledgment goes a long way to express gratitude to others and encourages them to stay involved.
- Support groups can be a wonderful place to meet other caregivers and form new friendships. I recently learned of two couples, each caring for a spouse with Parkinson’s Disease, who now meet monthly to enjoy lunch and socialize before attending a support group together. They share a common experience and are able to understand each other’s needs.