By Kristine Dwyer, LSW, Staff Writer
Through many years of working with caregivers, I have
been continually reminded of the great importance of
friends, especially during the challenges of caregiving
years. I have also felt the sadness and loneliness that
caregivers’ feel when friends drift away at a time when
they are needed most.
“You sure find out
who your friends are!” is a familiar comment expressed
by caregivers that can be both positive and negative.
The loyalty and support of close friends can make a
world of difference with even the most difficult
caregiving situations. Friends can serve as lifelines
for caregivers who find themselves facing despair.
However, caregivers also experience a great loss when
relatives, neighbors and lifetime friends seem to fade
away as a disease progresses or dementia increases in
the person being cared for.
Here are some ideas that may be helpful to prevent the
loss of friends:
We must do our best to educate others
about our loved one’s disease or illness as many are
unaware of or even fearful toward progressive
medical conditions. One caregiver wrote a letter to
family members and friends after he was told that
his spouse was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
He explained the meaning of the diagnosis and how he
needed their help and support. The letter dispelled
fears and opened up communication between them.
Let others know how they can help.
Keep a list of ideas handy and be specific so others
can easily step in to assist you. Friends can serve
as respite providers, drivers, phone companions,
errand helpers and visitors. One neighbor offered to
take a man out for a ride and to a coffee shop every
Saturday morning so that his caregiver could have
her hair done and pick up groceries. Both parties
were served with just a few hours of help each week.
Nurture present relationships, reach
out for new friendships and show appreciation to
those who have been able to stand by you through the
years. A handwritten thank you or verbal
acknowledgment goes a long way to express gratitude
to others and encourages them to stay involved.
Support groups can be a wonderful
place to meet other caregivers and form new
friendships. I recently learned of two couples, each
caring for a spouse with Parkinson’s Disease, who
now meet monthly to enjoy lunch and socialize before
attending a support group together. They share a
common experience and are able to understand each
Caregivers remember…..”Hold a true friend with both your
hands.” (Nigerian Proverb)
remember……”The only gift is a portion of thyself.”