11 Things Never to Say to a Caregiver

A considerable percentage of the senior population in the United States relies on caregivers to assist them with activities of daily living and other matters. The majority of people who provide older people with these types of services are unpaid family members, typically spouses and adult children. Unfortunately, and with alarming regularity, other people – including fellow family members not assisting with caregiving – make statements or ask remarkably inappropriate questions. In this article, we discuss eleven things that should never be said to a caregiver. In addition, we take a look at ways in which a caregiver can respond to even some of the most significantly inappropriate statements.

Eleven Things That You Should Never Say to a Caregiver

  • Why are you having such a tough time being a caregiver?
  • Why don’t you get out more?
  • You look tired
  • Caregiving seems like a burden – why are you sacrificing your life?
  • Why don’t you get a real life
  • Why don’t you put your parent in assisted living?
  • Why do you visit your mother so often when she doesn’t know you any longer?
  • Don’t feel guilty …
  • Let’s not talk about caregiving
  • You must be relieved it’s over
  • You need to get over it and move on

Why Are You Having Such a Tough Time Being a Caregiver?

Caregiving is like a number of other types of things in life. Some people around you with no experience in what you are doing think it’s a very easy undertaking. They have the misconception that caregiving for a senior is akin to a high school kid taking care of a well-behaved child while parents are away for two hours (precisely) for dinner. Of course, if you’ve spent any time as a caregiver, you’ve come to it as a highly challenging endeavor. This is the case when an aging parent requires a moderate amount of assistance with activities of daily living. This type of statement is demeaning, degrading, and the voice of a person who has no idea what is going on when it comes to caregiving for an aging adult.

Why Don’t You Get Out More?

On some level, telling a caretaker that he or she should get out more usually comes from what the speaker feels is a place of kindness. A caretaker may not take it all that kindly. Professionals in the field of respite relief for caregivers note that many people providing caregiver assistance to aging parents do need to get out more, do need a break, and do need to emphasize self-care more than they do. However, flatly asking a caregiver why he or she doesn’t get out more could be interpreted as an insensitive remark.

You Look Tired

Many caregivers of seniors do look tired with regularity. The fact is that they are tired. People who make this comment typically are not doing so to be mean or malicious. Some individuals recognize a caregiver is tired and volunteer to assist that individual in some manner. The reality is that if a person has a tired-looking caretaker in his or her life, a better statement to make revolves around doing something to assist the caretaker, like running errands for that person.

Caregiving Seems Like a Burden – Why Are You Sacrificing Your Life?

Caregiving is hard. That’s why caregivers and non-caregivers alike may refer to it as a burden, at least from time to time. Nonetheless, when a friend or family member compares caregiving to a burden, what they really seem to be saying is that the caregiver is not handling the situation properly. There can even be an element that may not explicitly be stated that the caregiver should be doing something different with his or her life. The reality is that most caregivers accept their role in assisting an aging parent because they are caring, loving people. They are striving to do the right thing for their parents.

Why Don’t You Get a Real Life

On some level, telling caregivers that they need to get a real-life is one of the harshest remarks in the book. Nearly all caregivers recognize that they likely need to make more time for themselves. Caregiving for an aging parent is not something an adult child likely sets as a life goal. However, telling caregivers that they need to get a real-life is akin to stating that what they are doing is not meaningful. In fact, caring for another person has significant meaning and is an objectively worthwhile use of a caregiver’s time. 

Why Don’t You Put Your Parent in Assisted Living?

With a considerable degree of regularity, caregivers hear the refrain that they should put their parents in assisted living, nursing homes, or memory centers. There are many reasons why a particular caregiver might not think long-term care is the right choice for a mother or father at this time. The day may come when assisted living or some other type of facility may make sense in a particular situation. The speaker of a statement about putting a mother or father in assisted living or into some other type of long-term care may come from a caring place. Nonetheless, such a statement can feel as if it has an inherent underpinning suggesting that a caregiver isn’t doing a good job or isn’t up for the job.

Why Do You Visit Your Mother So Often When She Doesn’t Know You Any Longer?

Caring for a parent with dementia can be particularly challenging. Adult children caring for a parent with dementia may end up at a juncture in time at which the mother or father doesn’t recognize his or her own child any longer. This includes a situation in which a parent may be in a memory center or nursing home. The reality is that an aging person really needs an advocate when he or she has extreme memory issues. Oftentimes, it is a spouse or an adult child that fulfills that role.

Don’t Feel Guilty …

Caregiver guilt is a natural response to caregiving for an older parent. Caregivers want to fix everything. They want to solve every problem and ease every hurt. the reality is that no one can do it all, including (or particularly) caregivers for aging parents. When people tell a caregiver not to feel guilty about something, that type of statement can make things worse by bringing that guilt to the forefront of a caregiver’s mind. A statement of this nature usually is good-natured. However, it really can have unintended consequences.

Let’s Not Talk About Caregiving

When it comes to your average small-talk scenario, caregivers generally don’t have a lot of fun and lighthearted things to contribute. People around them should understand that caregivers need to be able to talk about what is going on in their lives. We all need to talk about what is going on in our lives. Friends and family members should take the time to listen to what a caregiver has to say. This may include making some unpleasant statements.

You Must Be Relieved It’s Over

Eventually, when an adult child is caregiving for an aging parent, the work will end. In some instances, an adult parent will transition to assisted living, a memory center, or a nursing home. In others, the mother or father passes away.

When their pared dies, a caregiver is highly likely to face a myriad of emotions, including sadness, guilt, and relief. While relief may indeed be one of the emotions, a caregiver likely doesn’t want someone else to mention he or she should be or likely is relieved by the passing.  A statement about a caregiver feeling relief can feel as if it diminished the life of the parent who has passed – as well as the work of the caregiver in providing that parent assistance, according to professionals in the field of geriatric care.

You Need to Get Over It and Move On

The grieving process for a person who has been the primary caregiver for a senior parent who passes away can be complex. The grief process may seem like it has been “dragging on” to people around the person whose parent has passed.

The reality is that all people grieve in their own ways. Even if a person perceives that someone is having issues grieving, making a statement like “get over it” and “more on” are highly unhelpful.

Tips for Responding to Inappropriate Comments

The National Institute on Aging suggests responses to inappropriate or indelicate comments made by people to a caregiver who provides assistance to a senior parent. Some examples of responses a caregiver may want to consider include:

  • Respond calmly to whatever is said.
  • If you’re hurt by someone’s question or comment, say, “I know that you really care about me, but what you just said didn’t feel good. Here’s why …”
  • Use these comments as an invitation to ask for help. For example, you could say, “I’d love to figure out how to make more time for myself. As my friend, would you be willing to sit down and brainstorm ways to help me balance being a caregiver and having time for my own life?”

Caregivers need the support, encouragement, and understanding of people around them – friends and family alike. Words spoken to caregivers matter. An important part of supporting caregivers of the elderly is to make sure to strive to be considerate, thoughtful, and compassionate when speaking to them.