Helping Caregivers - A SMART Approach

About 10 years ago I finished my master's degree program in management and leadership with the goal of using it primarily in the non-profit sector. Funny thing is that I have used these concepts more in my personal life than professionally.

One thing that stood out in my studies was the idea of setting SMART goals. These are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).1

I have learned that setting vague goals rarely achieves anything.

A new tool for your toolbox

I am starting to see how management applications can help me in caregiving for my loved one with Alzheimer's disease and may assist other caregivers in general. Specifically, I think that both caregivers and those who could help them would benefit from understanding and implementing SMART goal concepts.

Too often there is a disconnect between caregivers and their possible support networks.

Giver versus receiver of SMART goals

SMART goals are clear and straightforward. Many times caregivers either do not ask for support or are too vague in their asks.

Also, those who could or may want to help them are not specific in their offers of help. There is a disconnect because those in need do not make it clear what they need and when they need it and their support network's offers of help are too nebulous.

Caregivers requesting help

What does this look like?

Caregiver: "I need help." This ask leaves others wondering what this means. Everyone's general ask becomes no one's specific ask.

It might be better to ask this way:

  • Caregiver: "I need help with a meal on Friday night. Would you be willing to pick up a pizza for me between 5 and 6 pm? Our favorite place doesn't deliver."
  • Caregiver: "I need help with laundry. Can you come over by the end of the week and help me fold?"
  • Caregiver: "I need a nap today. Can you come over and watch television this afternoon with my loved one for 2 hours so I can rest?"

Offering help to caregivers

For the possible helper, I often hear this, "Let me know if you need any help." Of course caregivers need help, lots of it. A more specific and more thoughtful approach may be more helpful, like:

  • Possible helper: "I want to help you with a meal. Can I pick up a pizza for you one night this week?"
  • Possible helper: "I would like to assist you with housework, but I work most days. Can my house cleaner drop by your home and vacuum, dust, and clean the bathroom this Friday or next?"
  • Possible helper: "I know that you don't get much sleep these days. I am available on Friday afternoon. Can I sit with them for a couple of hours while you rest?"

These are but a few example of what I would call SMART requests or SMART offers.

Utilizing SMART goals to help caregivers

These examples are all:

  1. Specific to the kind of help needed or offered.
  2. Measurable to how much is needed or offered.
  3. Achievable in what is needed or offered.
  4. Relevant to what is needed or offered.
  5. Time-bound to what is needed or offered.

I think specificity is what is most important here. What do I need and when? What can I offer and when? So much of caregiving is about managing physical energy, time, resources, emotional reserves, etc. I believe that giving clarity and boundaries can help us navigate this very difficult road as we seek and offer assistance and supports.

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