Support For The Family Caregiver

Some ideas to help ease the burden on caregivers of terminally-ill loved ones.

By Suzanne Mintz

Illness and end-of-life care are a family affair. Given the intensity of the end-of-life experience, though, it is easy to forget that the family caregiver, as well as the dying patient, needs special attention.

During these last days, caregivers tend to push themselves to the limit to do everything so that their loved one’s final hours are as good as they can be. To make sure that a family caregiver is not putting his or her own health at risk, family and friends, healthcare professionals, and clergy need to encourage caregivers to care for themselves.

How can you help a family caregiver? The following tips will get you started, but for more information, check out the National Family Caregiver Association's Web site: (

Reassure The Caregiver

For a family caregiver to let outsiders help care for a dying loved one, he or she must first feel that it is safe and acceptable to do so. Hospice has been helping people die comfortably and with dignity for many years. Encourage the caregiver to reach out to hospice, since hospice professionals and direct care workers are specially trained to care for the dying and understand a caregiver’s feelings and hesitations.

Set Up A Care Team

A care team made up of friends and acquaintances will help the caregiver focus on the spiritual connection with his or her loved one without being distracted by what needs to be done. If multiple people help with small tasks, such as fixing dinner or providing transportation to religious services, no one person is left shouldering a major responsibility.

Help The Caregiver Relax

Provide the caregiver with time away from home to go to a movie, have dinner with a friend, or get a massage. Caregivers need more than help with physical tasks; they also need someone to help them to relax. It may be difficult for them psychologically at this time to allow themselves the luxury of indulging in a favorite form of entertainment. But without taking enjoyable breaks, it may be even harder for them to settle back into a normal lifestyle once their loved one has died.

Be A Friend

Having someone willing to take the time to listen to what a family caregiver is experiencing is critical to his or her emotional well-being. Let the caregiver share his or her thoughts and feelings freely. Let him or her cry. Show that you care by sending flowers or a care package, or sharing a favorite recording of relaxing music.

Suzanne Mintz is the president and co-founder of The National Family Caregivers Association.

Copyright, Educational Broadcasting Corporation/Public Affairs Television, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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