So many caregivers find their requests for help fall on deaf ears. So many people say they’re willing to help, but then they never seem to be around when you need them. Why does this happen?

Friends and family

It can be uncomfortable to do, but letting people know you could really use their help is important. Ask a neighbor if they could pick a few things up for you while they’re out. Let your community organizations know you could use a volunteer for a few hours to clear up your yard or keep your mom company. See if your friend would come cook dinner and eat with your family once a week. The more specific you are, the better your chances.

It can be a real challenge to break up tasks into pieces that strangers can help you with, so start small. Hopefully soon certain asks will be taken off your plate without you having to do anything about it — the neighbor who mows your lawn when he does his and the friend who’ll take your dad to the doctor every week.

People will say no and let you down, but people will also help.

Many people want to help, they just don’t know what you need. It’s like that friend you keep meaning to see, but never make real plans with — get specific and it’ll actually happen. People feel good about helping. Think of all the times people have helped you in the past — they’ll be there for you again.

Insincere offers

Sometimes people offer to help just like they ask you how you’re doing today or comment on the weather — it’s just a reflex. They’ll be surprised to hear from you if you call them up and ask them to follow through.

Genuine offers

Other people really mean it when they say they’d like to help, but they don’t know what to do. Often times they’ll come through if you ask them to do a specific task.

It can be frustrating to ask people for help multiple times and have them turn you down. Everyone’s busy, not just caregivers, but there are ways around feeling like coordinating help is more effort than it’s worth.

Apps like Tyze and Caring Bridge help you by saying what you need and when you need it and allowing people to step in when they’re available. When people offer to help, add them to your network of supporters on the app. Make a list of the things you need help with. Ask them in person or over the phone, too.

Professionals

Medical professionals often have to put their guard up against getting too involved with patients, so they may cut you off or seem cold when you tell them how much you struggle. They may also not take the time to figure out what, exactly, it is you’re asking for.

If you ask direct questions — can I get help with this bill? can I get medication delivered? is there home care help available? — you may have better luck.

Ask yourself this

Do you want help or someone to listen?

If you’re frustrated with someone’s attempts at giving you advice, ask yourself what you’re looking for from the conversation. Do you want advice? Offers of actual help? Or do you just want someone to listen and encourage? Let them know what you want.

Do you want an expert or someone who’s been through it?

There’s a time when you want specific advice and a time when you’d like to commiserate and hear about someone else’s experiences. Remember that an expert may have never actually had to apply his or her advice. Each person’s experiences are unique, so what helped one person may not help you.

What am I asking for?

How much of the background information does someone need to know to understand how they can help you? So many times in life a brief question is more likely to get attention than a long story.

Who to ask

Your doctor likely has no idea how much things cost or what programs are available to help. Doctors also rarely have the time to listen. What you can do is ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to a social worker.

A social worker can:

  • provide counseling for you and your family
  • connect you to support groups and other families
  • help you find financial support
  • help you communicate with the medical team

Many people struggle when a family member is seriously ill or disabled. Social workers can help you cope with the financial, emotional, and practical problems you’re facing.

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