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Asking Others for Help

Once you know more precisely what you need, then you can find persons and organizations to help you meet those needs. Typically, there are people available to help you. However, you must first identify those persons, and second, ask them for help. Think broadly. Neighbors, life-long family friends, club members, local faith organizations, and even your family members are all potential helpers. Make a list of everyone you can think of and start contacting them.

Many caregivers refuse to ask for help, feeling that others, especially family, should know that they need assistance. Why should you ask for help? Ask because you need and deserve a hand. Caregiving can be very difficult and exhausting, both emotionally and physically. It is necessary for you to take a break and take advantage of what others can do for you and for the older person.

Another reason to ask family and friends to help you is because elders prefer to have people they know take care of them. Sometimes, they feel uncomfortable having "strangers" in their home helping them with very personal matters. You too may feel more comfortable having someone you are familiar with giving care to your older loved one. However, keep in mind there may be times when you may need to depend on someone you do not know to help with caregiving.

Asking for help means dropping your pride and forgetting what happened in the past. It can mean expecting that others want to help despite their insensitivity in the past. Do not drop hints about what would be helpful to you; ask for what you need. In asking, be specific. Below are a few examples of being specific in your requests:

  • Don't say, "I am exhausted. Can you take Mom sometime so I can get some rest?"
    Say instead, "On Saturday afternoon, can you sit with Mom from 1:00 p.m. until about 7:00 p.m.?"
  • Don't say, "It would be nice if you could help me with Dad."
    Say instead, "Can you help me by taking Dad to the doctor on Tuesday at 11:00 a.m.?"
  • Don't say, "Grandma is having trouble cooking."
    Say instead, "Let's take turns cooking dinner for Grandma. How about you take one week and I'll take the next?"
By being specific with your requests, you make it easy for others to help you. Many times friends and relatives will say, "Call me if you need something." Such a vague offer may cause some caregivers to think that the offer is insincere, and they may fail to realize the other person's perspective. Often, family and friends may not know what to offer. They may feel that you will reject their suggestion or that you don't want them to help. The best way to find out if someone really wants to help you is to ask.

Keep in mind that just because people are unable to meet your specific request at one time does not mean they are unwilling to help. They just may have a conflict at that time or may feel they cannot make that specific commitment for a variety of reasons. And that is acceptable. Just remember, they may still be willing to help with other tasks. So be prepared to share with them a couple of other ways they can help and allow them to give what is comfortable and convenient for them. Keep a positive attitude; know that family and friends want to help you.

But what if they simply refuse to help you? Take the refusal in stride; at least now you know for certain whom you cannot count on in the future. Simply cross their names off your list of potential helpers and go on to the next potential helper. Don't waste a lot of time feeling depressed because someone refuses to help you. That is his or her issue; you have work to accomplish!

When you do ask for help, you must be prepared to accept assistance. This acceptance includes realizing that others will not do things the way you do them. You must respect the fact that a different approach to caregiving is fine as long as the older person is not hurt or harmed. Accepting help means you have to let go of control and focus on something else. Very important: remember to show your gratitude. A hearty "thank you" or maybe a card to express your gratitude is a welcomed touch. Kindness works every time. When people feel appreciated, they will help you more often.

Part of the Senior Service Network Supported by the D.C. Office on Aging