How relatives/ friends/ colleagues can help

The work involved in dementia care is very high and stressful. Primary caregivers cannot handle this alone for so many years. They need help to handle it.

What caregivers and persons around them can do: Friends, relatives, neighbors, and colleagues can try to understand what caregivers are doing and think of ways to help. Even children can help. What others can do for caregivers depends on what they know about dementia care and how much they are willing to learn. It also depends on how much time and energy they have. To see how you can help, talk to the caregivers and find out more. Discuss ways you can contribute.

Information on this page can be used by persons who want to help a caregiver. It can also be used by a caregiver who wants to know what sort of help to ask for, and how.

Things to know in order to help dementia caregivers

To help a dementia caregiver you must first have some appreciation about dementia and care so that you know how to talk to the person with dementia and the caregivers. Often people who want to help mean well, but they say hurtful things without realizing. This is because they do not understand enough about how dementia affects the person, and how much work a caregiver does. (some useful articles for this are listed at the bottom of the page)

Once you get some idea of what dementia is, and how it affects the person with dementia and their family, consider how much time and effort you want to spend to help. Think about the type of help you are comfortable giving. Are you comfortable doing things directly with a person with dementia, such as helping them with some daily task, or spending some time giving them company? Are you ready to learn a lot more about dementia and care in order to help? Or maybe you prefer helping in ways where you don’t have to talk to the person with dementia. Caregivers need help in many activities, so you can always find some place where you can help.

You can, for example, do errands where you don’t need to meet the person at all. For such work, you don’t even need to learn anything either dementia or caregiving. Examples are fetching the laundry, shopping, visiting the bank, and paying utility bills.

If you are thinking of helping with the direct care of the person with dementia, you need some basic knowledge about dementia. For example, you need to know how dementia affects the person’s abilities and behavior, so that you are not surprised or shocked when interacting with the person. To talk to the person, you need some basic communication skills to make sure the person can understand you and you can understand the person. To help with a daily task, you need to know how to offer help, what sort of things to help with, etc. You also need to know more about the likes, dislikes, habits, etc., of the person with dementia. If you are helping the person in the presence of the caregiver, you may not need to know as much. But if you are going to take over dementia care for some time to give the caregiver a break, you need much more knowledge and practice to handle the care. The person with dementia also needs to be used to you.

You can also provide emotional support to the caregiver by being a good listener when the caregiver is stressed. To do this, you must understand the caregiving role well enough to feel empathy, and also be at peace yourself so that listening to the caregiver’s problems and stress does not overwhelm you.

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Activities to help with

Here are some ideas on how to support the caregiver. You can also ask the caregivers what they want help with, and then discuss what you can do. Start with simple, do-able activities that give immediate benefit to the caregiver. Leave more complex activities for later. Complex help often requires better understanding, better coordination, and more practice. Try these only after you have been able to help in simple ways and you are sure you want to do much more.

  • Do outside tasks, such as shopping, couriering packets, visiting the post office, laundry drop and pickup, bank work, paying bills, buying medicines, and dropping in cheques at the bank.
  • Help in home tasks that do not require talking to the person with dementia. Examples are dusting, cleaning, cooking, and helping with the washing at home.
  • Assist the caregiver in researching on dementia care topics.
  • Help the caregiver set up the home to make it more suitable for someone with dementia. This may include designing changes, purchasing material, installing what is needed, moving things around the home, etc.
  • Assist the caregiver to take the person with dementia for trips for checkups and other necessary medical activities. You can help by arranging for an ambulance or drive yourself, help to get the person into a wheelchair, support the person to walk or climb, etc.
  • Help the person with dementia wit activities of daily living.
  • Spend time with the person with dementia so that the caregiver can get some time away. For example, sit with the person when the person is sleeping and the caregiver wants to go out for some errands or to make some long phone calls.
  • Take over more care work for many hours or even a few days to give a longer respite to the caregiver.
  • Help in home nursing of the person with dementia.
  • Help support the person walk.
  • Help the caregiver gather objects needed for “activities” with the person with dementia.
  • Spend some relaxed time with the person with dementia, chatting, listening to music, or even playing games. Be part of doing “meaningful activities” with the person, like folding clothes or sorting papers or shelling peas. This improves the quality of life of the person, and busy caregivers may not have time for it.
  • Take the person with dementia for a drive.
  • Take the person with dementia for outings. This will require good planning.

Basically, there are many ways you can help. It is possible to help at different levels of your time and energy and at different levels of how much you interact with the person with dementia.

There is one additional, very important area you can help in: directly help the caregiver in self-care:

  • Be available to listen and to provide emotional support to the caregiver
  • Give suggestions to the caregiver for handling the care, and for balancing the several areas of the caregiver’s life
  • Help the caregiver nurture himself/ herself

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Special notes for children who want to help

craft book made by grandchild for dementia person

One page of a small book made by a grandchild by
sticking pictures and labelling them. The grandchild
spends time going through these pictures with
the grandparent, who has dementia.

Children can also help. For this, first they need to understand dementia. The resource section below includes pointers to discussions for explaining dementia to children.

Some ways children can help:

  • Do tasks like shopping.
  • Help with the house work like dusting, clearing the house, getting rid of the garbage, and ironing.
  • Spend time with the person with dementia. Older persons often like to spend time with their grandchildren.
  • Participate in fun “activities” with the person with dementia. These could be things like finger painting, playing with blocks, singing, playing board games, playing a musical instrument, and singing bhajans and old film songs.
  • Prepare material for reminiscence and fun activities. Examples are large, labelled albums, collections of objects the person may enjoy touching and seeing, and so on.

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Remain alert for caregivers who are depressed/ are neglecting their health

Caregivers often do not ask for help. They may hide their stress. They may be so busy that they neglect their own health. They may even reach a state of helplessness or extreme depression and not know how to get out of it and ask for help.

Be alert about this and offer a helping hand in time. If the caregiver is skipping their own health checkups, see what you can do to make sure they get time to go for their checkups. Or even offer to take them to a doctor.

If you feel the caregiver is very dejected, think about what you can do for it. Maybe you are not comfortable talking with someone who is very dejected; this may make you be critical or dismissive of the caregiver, and will make things worse. If the caregiver is depressed, and if you cannot talk to or help them, look for other friends and relatives who can help instead of you. Try to understand their situation and possible problems better to find appropriate ways in which you can help, given your own skills and your time and energy. (see resources below for articles to read).

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See also….

Resources/ references on Dementia Care Notes and related sites for above topics

Some relevant interviews on this site:

External links related to the topic

Some articles with tips on how to help caregivers (you may need to adapt them for India):

Some articles on communicating with persons with dementia and their family caregivers are listed below (these are not India-specific):

Books: Anyone keen to help persons with dementia/ caregivers can get an idea of how to help by understanding more about dementia and its care. Many books include tips to caregivers on how to get help, and concerned persons can use this to know what sort of help to offer.

36 hr book cover and link
The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for Persons with Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss in Later Life (Nancy L Mace, Peter V Rabins): This classic book includes a chapter 'Getting Outside Help' which has suggestions on how caregivers can get help from outsiders. You can use this chapter to know what sort of help you can offer. The help you offer and the way you offer it has to be suitable for your cultural setting, so suggestions in the book may need to be adapted. For the paperback version, see Amazon.com, or, if you are in India, see Amazon.in or Flipkart or any other vendor.

This book is also available as a Kindle eBook. Read the book or sample right away on your laptop, tablet, or Kindle by checking it at Amazon.com or Amazon.in.

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