“Yes, I know how difficult this can be.”

“I can see that your life will have changed dramatically.”

“I understand.”

When serving as a co-caregiver for both of my aging parents, I heard these, and many other similar statements routinely from others in my social and professional circles. While I was confident (and remain so) that these individuals were sincere and meant well, I have to question how much they truly understood the entire scope of what I was experiencing.

Caregiving can be a physically, mentally and emotionally draining job. Caregivers can be easily run ragged with new responsibilities. During a single day, a caregiver may meet with medical professionals, advocate on a senior’s behalf, provide transportation for an aging parent, cook meals, clean a senior’s home and/or arrange for homecare support.

At night, a caregiver’s mind does not shut off.

He or she may toss and turn in bed and be unable to sleep soundly due to worrying about a loved one’s condition. Insomnia becomes a caregiver’s worst enemy. With remembering my own caregiving experience, there were many days when I was continually on the go and trying my best to manage.

I believe the only people who truly understand what caregivers endure are the people that watch and hear of the work of caregivers (ex. healthcare workers; professional psychologists; counsellors) and, most especially, other caregivers.

If you have never walked in a caregiver’s shoes, how can you honestly say, “I understand”?

Don’t get me wrong – caregivers want and need support. I, for one, certainly appreciated all the help that came my way when Mom and Dad were alive. Even years after both my parent’s passing, I continue to believe that caregiving is not an individual endeavor but best achieved with many hands. Please, however, resist making broad generalizations with caregivers. Instead, consider how you can help – even on a smaller scale. A woman I know visits a blind woman on a weekly basis and reads her mail. This act may sound small, but the gesture goes a long ways as, without sight, the blind woman will have no idea of required payment amounts on her monthly bills. Perhaps you could offer to pick up groceries for a caregiver or shovel his/her sidewalks clear of snow? Or perhaps you could give a caregiver your undivided attention over a cup of coffee where you turn off your own cell phone and simply listen?

Considering our country’s demographics and rapidly-aging population, chances are high that you will become a caregiver yourself at some time in the future. It is likely then that you will best realize what a caregiver actually goes through. A sympathetic shoulder can be a great thing; however, saying “I understand” when you don’t will be only empty words.

Resist talking the talk until you have walked the walk.

Replace “I understand” and ask “How can I help you?” instead. It will be far more appreciated.

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