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When someone says, “Let me know if I can help”

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

Claire’s story is typical of what many people go through when caring for a loved one with some form of dementia. What Claire always wanted when caring for her mum was someone to keep mum company so she could fetch groceries, or visit a care home to see what it was like, or just sit quietly in her car for a while. Her mum was very particular about her company, though, which made it difficult to arrange this.

Claire said: “People do genuinely want to help, but when confronted by what it actually takes... they will often fade away.” Claire did have more luck with offloading some domesticity. She had friends and neighbours drop off supper on a regular schedule, or mow the lawn, or weed the garden. These were all things that could be explained to her mum as examples of neighbours being very kind. These were also things that didn't involve others having to interact with her, which seemed to make it easier for them to do.

Today there are tools around that help make interaction easier. There’s a wealth of online advice from organisations such as Dementia Friend, Alzheimers and the Contented Dementia Trust.

How to respond to well-meaning friends and neighbours (and family!) when they offer to help:

Practical help is always welcome. The kinds of things you’d do for someone with a newborn – meals, chores, dog walking, shopping! It’s important to know that it’s coming, so you can make the most of the chance to take a break or make that important phone call. However, if they just want to pop round on the off chance for a chat or a social visit, and be treated like a guest, that makes them just another burden. So don’t be shy about saying what is truly helpful, and what isn’t!

Company is a wonderful thing. It doesn’t have to be in person (although, of course, that is best). These days families around the UK are having to make do with a phone call or video call, no matter how close they live to their loved on. The point is to help them feel cared for and connected to people.

So if friends and family are happy to call/video call, see if you can use a memory aid like some of the new tablet devices out there to support them. FamilyNewsNow is an app designed to be used on your own unwanted tablet or iPad, and you can use it as a conversation aid. Family and trusted friends can be invited to sign up to your account and post their own photo reels and short news messages to your loved one’s tablet display, giving everyone more to talk about with them and explore. Why not create some photo reels themed around some of the Conversation Cards created free by the Alive charity? Try one topic and see how it works.

So, the next time someone says, what can I do to help? Have a few ideas up your sleeve, that really will make caring easier, and being cared for more enjoyable!

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