The one question I hear most often from dementia caregivers is “How do I get other family members to help with the caregiving?”
Asking for help is as much art as science, but before you start writing off your siblings or other family members as being afraid or unwilling to help, you first need to assess your asking ability.
“I need help caring for Mom (or Dad)” is not usually going to produce the desired results. A general ask like that, especially when the issue is dementia and its attendant behavior changes, is difficult to decipher if you’re on the receiving end. It’s simply too open-ended. The askee is most likely to ignore it rather than get mired down in something too large or scary to handle.
On the other hand, a specific ask—“When you’re here this summer would you please take Dad on at least two half-day outings,” is both specific and clear. It’s harder to turn down. That doesn’t mean that your brother won’t turn you down, so you want to have a few skills in your repertoire to help him accept your request.
Here are some ideas:
• Be specific. “Could you please bring a meal for Mom and me at 5 on Friday? We just need two portion and please don’t bring anything with onion in it as Mom can’t eat onion any more.” This will work far better than “could you bring a meal by sometime?”
• Be realistic. Asking your brother to drive 300 miles every week so you can get a day off isn’t going to work. Can he come once a month or once a quarter? What about having him phone Dad once a week? With dementia caregiving you have to take into account a level of unwillingness to be around someone whose brain isn’t working properly.
• Be creative. What are your siblings’ skills? If one is good with computers, enlist her or him in making and sending cards on a regular basis, or producing short videos or photos.
• Be flexible. If you want your sister to bathe Mom weekly and she doesn’t want to do that, then ask: what would she like to do on a weekly basis for Mom? The important piece here is not the bathing, but that your sis is engaged in Mom’s care on a weekly basis. Perhaps she’d be willing to take Mom to a movie or shopping, or read to her. You can always hire someone or find a professional volunteer through organizations like Visiting Nurses Association to help with the bathing.
• Be inclusive. A sibling who lives at a long distance doesn’t have to be automatically excluded from helping. Ask if they’d be willing to help track finances or insurance or any of the dozen paperwork threads that are wrapped around caregiving. That 300-mile driving distance can be overcome with technology and your willingness to ask for help, even from a distance.
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