June 2

5 Ways to Support a Family Caregiver


Your brother looks exhausted as he rubs his eyes and tries to explain how your mother’s health is getting worse. After hours spent begging and pleading with your mom to listen, his voice sounds raspy, and his eyes are red from all the tears.

Your mom recently sold her home and moved in with your older brother because her health had begun to decline, and it was no longer safe for her to live alone. She’s always been hard-headed and set in her ways. No one could ever convince her to do anything she didn’t want to do.

The problem is, her health is getting worse, and the doctors insist that she needs to stop smoking, and if she keeps refusing to quit, they won’t give her the oxygen tank she desperately needs to manage her symptoms from COPD.

Does this type of scenario sound familiar to you? Maybe you’ve experienced something similar with your own family, but perhaps the situation was a little different. Maybe it’s your dad who’s sick, and you’re watching your mom struggle to take care of his increasing needs and care demands.

The situation has put you in a tight spot emotionally. You love the person who is sick, and you are worried about them, but you see the toll it’s taking on the family member who is acting as the caregiver, and you feel like you need to do something to help.

So, what do you do in this situation? How do you provide support to the caregiver without stepping on their toes or making them feel like you’re judging their ability to care for their parent, spouse, or sibling?

We’ll show you eight ways to support a family caregiver, and when you’re ready to get help, request your free consultation to speak with one of our experienced and compassionate Aging Life Care Managers.

What is a Family Caregiver?

Family caregivers are people who assist their relatives who are aging, in poor health, or disabled. 40.4 million adults in the United States are family caregivers who provide support for relatives ages 65 and older.

1. Help Your Family Caregiver Avoid Burnout

Your brother hasn’t looked very good for a while now. He looks like he’s lost weight and always seems worn out. The dark circles under his eyes appeared not long after your mom moved in, and he’s been snapping at you much more lately.

You know that caring for your mom is taking a toll on your brother’s mental and physical health, but you don’t know what to do. You’re afraid if you say anything, he’s going to take it the wrong way, but you’re worried if you say nothing, it’s going to get worse.

In this type of situation, it’s hard to know whether speaking up or keeping quiet is best. Still, when you start noticing signs of exhaustion, abnormal irritability, or changes in your brother’s eating habits—it’s time to step in and speak up.

You must learn the warning signs of caregiver burnout so you can get your brother the assistance he needs to take care of your mom without damaging his own mental or physical health in the process.

Some more signs of caregiver burnout are:

  • They are eating more or less than they usually do, and their weight is fluctuating.
  • They haven’t been sleeping well and could be experiencing insomnia.
  • They always seem worn out and don’t have much energy physically or mentally.
  • They aren’t participating in activities or social outings that they would usually attend.
  • You or other family members haven’t heard from them much lately.
  • They seem to be frequently complaining about having aches and pains without any underlying medical condition that explains it.
  • They are having recurring headaches or often have difficulty concentrating.
  • They have had a sudden change in their spiritual beliefs or have seemed to have “given up” or “lost hope.”
  • They are frustrated with their situation and feel helpless or angry.

Recommended Reading: Caregiver Support: The Value of Caregiver Support Services

2. Be a Shoulder to Lean On

Your brother sits at the breakfast table, sipping his morning coffee with his shoulders slumping, and his head tilted down with a look of defeat in his eyes. He was up all night taking care of your mom again, so he’s barely slept.

Your mom has IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and she has a hard time getting in the bathroom and onto the toilet by herself. Your brother has to get up and help her every time she needs to go, and the sleepless nights are weighing on him.

You ask him how he’s holding up, and he tries to play it off like he’s just fine—” nothing to worry about here”—but you know he’s not telling the truth. Offering to step in and help your mom one night so he can get some sleep is off the table. You have your own family at home with kids who expect you to tuck them in bed promptly at eight, and he would never let you help, even if you offered.

The most important thing you can do for someone who is feeling overwhelmed and defeated is to be a shoulder for them to lean on. Let your brother know you love him, and that your ears are open for business if he ever wants to vent or get anything off his chest—judge-free, of course.

If he doesn’t want to talk, don’t try and force the issue. Instead, find a way to distract him from his problems and attempt to cheer him up a little if you can. For example, when you know he’s having an especially rough day, bring him dinner and offer to watch your mom long enough for him to take a shower or do something for himself to take a break.

Not having to worry about dinner and getting some well-deserved alone time to recharge will help, and he’ll know you’re there to listen when he gets ready to talk.

Recommended Reading: How to Provide a Compassionate Approach to Caregiver Burnout

3. Give Your Family Caregiver a Gift of Self-Care

Your brother used to pay more attention to his appearance before your mom moved in. He was obsessed with his hair, and it wasn’t unusual for him to have more hair care products than you or your mom.

Now it looks like he hasn’t had a haircut in months, and his hair gel sits unused on the sink. You’re worried about his mental health, and you wish he would take better care of himself.

You’re afraid to bring it up, however, because if you do, you might upset him and do more harm than good. So, what can you do to help without overstepping boundaries and making him feel worse?

Give your brother the gift of self-care by giving him gifts that remind him to shower, eat, and get sleep. Some examples of good gift ideas are:

  • Buy him a new hair care product that you know he would love and be excited to try to encourage him to take a shower and fix his hair. He’ll feel 10x better just being clean and looking more like his usual self.
  • As mentioned earlier, bring him food and offer to sit with your mom for a while so he can take some time for himself. Suggest that he take a walk, visit a friend, or spend time with his wife and kids while you’re hanging out with your mom.
  • When your brother is having trouble sleeping, you could get him a sleep-aid such as herbal tea or an over-the-counter medication like melatonin. He’ll remember you gave it to him when it comes time for bed, and even if he doesn’t use it, it will help remind him he needs to get some sleep.

Recommended Reading: Make Self-Care Part of Your Caregiving Plan

4. Ease the Caregiver’s Burden

Your brother is likely overwhelmed with all the new responsibilities he has taken on with caring for your mom. He had a lot on his plate before she moved in, and now he’s struggling to handle it all.

There’s no chance your brother would ever let you help. He is too prideful and considers himself a failure if he allows someone to do anything he feels is “his job.” So, what can you do to ease his burden when he doesn’t let you help?

Try offering your help differently. Don’t point out all the things you’ve noticed that your brother needs help with to try and convince him, for starters. That’s just going to make him feel worse because you’re pointing out all his areas of weakness.

Instead, offer to help with one particular task. For example, have you noticed your brother has a bunch of dirty dishes piling up in the sink? Wash them for him if you know he wouldn’t be upset.

If you think he would be upset by you doing it without asking, then ask him by saying, “Hey Jack, would you mind if I washed these dishes for you? I don’t want to go home right now because [insert a good reason], and it would give me something useful to do.”

By phrasing your offer to help in this way, you make him feel like he is doing you a favor, so he is more likely to let you help.

Recommended Reading: Communication is the Key to Setting Boundaries in Adult-Child Relationships

5. Get Professional Help Before It’s Too Late

I know what you’re thinking.

“I’ve tried all this or something similar, and they just get mad at me for trying to help. They won’t listen to anything I have to say, and I don’t know what else to do. I’m worried that if they don’t get help from someone soon, things are going to get much worse. What am I going to do then?”

In this case, it’s time to get help from an Aging Life Care Manager. An Aging Life Care Manager can intervene on your behalf and help you come up with a customized care plan for your mom that leaves your brother time to care for himself and his family too.

They work closely with your entire family to make sure everyone can live a healthy and happy life. They help you access resources you never knew existed, and they provide essential resources or referrals for tasks such as meal prep and light cleaning.

An Aging Life Care Manager can even escort your mom to doctor appointments and act as a healthcare advocate on your behalf. They know the ins and outs of the healthcare system like the back of their hand, and they can ensure your mom gets the best care possible, and that she understands all the instructions her doctor gives her.

They’ll even provide family members with a review of the visit and an action-plan needed to comply with the physician’s recommendations.

Recommended Reading: Utilizing Aging Life Care Managers for Extra Support

Summary: 5 Ways to Support a Family Caregiver

You’re worried about your brother, and you don’t know what to do. You want to help him out with taking care of your mom, but he refuses to let you.

He is too stubborn, and he feels like a failure when he lets you help. What can you do?

5 Ways to Support a Family Caregiver:

  1. Help Them Avoid Caregiver Burnout: the caregiver in your family stops spending time with family and friends, is exhausted and looks like he hasn’t showered in days, he may be suffering from caregiver burnout. You need to learn to spot these warning signs and know when it’s time to seek professional help.
  2. Be a Shoulder to Lean On: let your family caregiver know he can come to you anytime he needs to vent and get what he’s feeling off of his chest. Make sure he knows anything he says stays between the two of you and that you won’t judge him for what he tells you.
  3. Give Them the Gift of Self-Care: give your family caregiver gifts such as sleepytime herbal tea or bring him dinner to make sure he remembers to sleep and eat.
  4. Ease Their Burden: what do you do when you offer to help, but your family caregiver won’t let you? Change the way you offer to help by telling him that allowing you help enables you to cope with the situation. For example, tell him you need something to keep you busy, and letting you clean his house would help with your anxiety. He will be more willing to accept your help when he feels like he’s doing you a favor too.
  5. Seek Professional Help Before It’s Too Late: is your family caregiver still refusing to let you help and continues to get angry at you for trying? Speak to one of our professional Aging Life Care Managers to learn how we can help you mediate the situation, and get your mom and your brother the extra help they need to live a happier, more balanced life.

Request Your Free Consultation

Are you still not sure if hiring an Aging Life Care Manager is the right choice for you? See what some of our recent clients have to say about their experience working with our Aging Life Care Managers.

“Jennifer is a tremendous asset to have at your side. I can’t imagine successfully having worked through the situation with my wife without her. She frequently comes up with ideas and suggestions for what seems intractable issues, and her positive personality helps greatly in the tough times.”
John Barrett

“I have been using Jennifer Tyner’s as a care manager in the care of my best friend. Jennifer has been nothing short of a godsend for at least ten years. She has saved me untold hours on the phone and the road, as I live out of state. Her expertise has seen me through my friend’s care since she could still live in her own home, to the present late stages of Alzheimer’s.”
Sheri Allen

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Life over 50 is complicated. From illnesses to general aging-related difficulties, there's a lot to learn and a lot to cope with. We understand and we're here to help answer questions and provide guidance on your options.

About the author

Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA

President & CEO, Aging Life Care™ Manager

“I am dedicated to working with older adults and their families to maintain dignity and enhance their quality of life.”