Holidays open our hearts like no other time of year does. We give generously our time and money to the poor and others in need.
But 40 million family carers also need your help. These are women and men who care for their loved ones and can no longer devote themselves to their basic activities such as bathing, cooking or going to the bathroom. They are often unpaid and overworked. Many will not want to complain or ask for help despite drowning in their dedicated role of caregiver.
We ask people with caring responsibilities how we can help them.
Yet that is not enough.
If a family member or friend is a caregiver, watch "Help," a video that is part of AARP's caregiver campaign and ad board. You can find the video on YouTube. It was created on a volunteer basis by Spike DDB advertising agency, directed by renowned filmmaker Spike Lee.
In the video, a woman ends a visit with a friend, who is cared for by her husband. "Goodbye, Janet," she said. "It was nice to see you again, you are pretty, my daughter."
Then the friend turns to the caregiver husband before leaving and says, "Just tell me what I can do to help."
That's what we say when we do not know what to do.
In the next scene of the video, which lasts just a minute, the husband faces the camera. The following brilliantly summarizes the challenge of being a caregiver.
"Well, to help me, she will have to help every day," says the husband. "Every hour, every day." Whenever my wife calls for help. I mean, maybe she could help her prepare her lunch. But the crust – the whole crust – must be cut at the corners. She could help me run to the doctor for the fifth time this week, help me with specialists and second opinions as well as the painful paperwork involved in paperwork.
"Help me understand how hard it is to see my wife's name on so much paperwork, but this is about me, I'm the only one who can do it, like that, for her." Do not like his cooking anyway. "
In a voiceover, the advertiser invites people to visit the AARP.org/caregiving website or call (877) 333-5885 for help.
I've heard so many caregivers and their stories inspire me and break my heart. These are unsung heroes and heroines who take care of one or sometimes both parents.
There was Dorothy, whose father came to live with his family after the death of his wife. He could not live alone because of his memory loss. She found a day schedule where her father could go while she was working at home.
"I discovered that buses were available for a small fee and we decided to get him on the bus in the morning and make sure one of us was there to join him and ask him to sign.
Dorothy says that she has lost sleep and that she has not found the time to do any exercise. His father eventually had to be transferred to an assisted living center. He died a year ago at the age of 91. "You have to do what you have to do, in the best way possible."
Here's how to go beyond the platitude of "Let me know what you need."
Ask with a plan. Do not offer help like this: "I can relieve you when you want." Instead, say, "I'm free on Wednesdays from noon to 3 pm. to give you relief. Does it work for you? "
You may need to insist, but caregivers need a break.
Listen to clues about how you can help. In the video "Help", the husband described being a driver and a cook. Bring a meal. And sometimes, just helping to make a doctor's appointment is a big relief for a caregiver.
Share calendars. When you are busy, you often do not share what needs to be done. On AARP.org, search for "Apps to help caregivers stay organized."
Help with homework. Do not say, "There are a lot of resources for caregivers." Instead, say, "I've done some research on some senior care programs and here's a list.
Use a vacation visit to evaluate what needs to be done. Be prepared not to be a guest, but a substitute caregiver. In a survey conducted last year, the AARP revealed that family caregivers needed help during the holidays. Nearly eight in ten said it would be helpful to talk to someone who understands, 73% would like help with holiday tasks and 72% for holiday meals.
Let's help carers change their internal dialogue. They should not have to go it alone.