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The Art of Asking: When You Need Help from Family, Friends and Professionals

Being the primary caregiver to people with Alzheimer’s is a difficult job, especially if you feel like the only person in your loved one’s life who is doing any work. If you feel angry, sad, lonely or hopeless, you are not alone. As many members of the AlzheimersDisease.net community can tell you, we have felt those feelings too. Throughout my career, I have discovered some communication strategies that can give you a better chance of getting the help you need.

Use "I feel" statements

Tell people how you are feeling using, “I feel...” statements instead of “you [accusatory]” statements.

Beginning a sentence with, “I feel...” primes others to listen and potentially offer help, whereas beginning a sentence with, “you [accusation]” often primes others to put up their defenses and distance themselves further. Expressing our feelings and needs to others is most effective when done face to face, and one on one. In summary, clearly specify how you feel, and what you need.

"I feel..." versus "you [accusation]" example:
The Inquiry: Speaking to your brother: “How is Dad, by the way? How are you?”

Unhelpful “You [accusation]” statement: “You have not visited or asked about him in weeks. Do you actually care how we are doing? Every day is a struggle, and some help would be nice.”

Helpful “I feel...” statement: “Thank you for asking. I am feeling overwhelmed. Dad keeps having accidents and getting embarrassed, so he denies having the accident, and will not change his clothes or wear adult diapers. I wonder if he would be less embarrassed about it around you. Could we schedule a day-long visit next week to see if you could help? Would next Tuesday work?”

Tell people how they can help

When someone does ask what they can do to help, tell them!

A phenomenon I frequently see in my work is that family and friends often offer help, but in a casual way that we assume is insincere. These offers come in the forms of, “Can I get you anything?” “What can I help with?” and similar phrases. Next time someone makes you this offer, assume they really want to help, and accept.

Consider what specific things can others reasonably do for you and the patient. The more specific and succinct your request, the better. Do not forget to express gratitude. Keep a running list of things you need help to accomplish so that it is easier to think of something the moment help is offered.

Telling people how to help example:
The offer: “You seem to have a lot on your plate! Is there anything I can do?”

Item on your list: “Find daytime care for mom, get her enrolled ASAP.”

Less helpful response: “Thank you for asking. I do actually need help finding Mom an adult day care.”

More helpful response: “Thank you for asking. I need someone to come up with a list of adult day cares in our area, with their pricing and availability so I can choose one by the end of the month.”

When all else fails...reach out for help

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our pleas to our families and friends seem to fall on deaf ears, or simply do not yield any actual help. It is helpful to acknowledge and let ourselves feel the unpleasant emotions from this sense of abandonment.

There are many online supports (AlzheimersDisease.net Facebook group for instance), and in-person support groups available to help us express these emotions. Writing in a journal, or speaking to a support person such as a therapist, clergy member, or mental health hotline can also help. To find other supportive resources in your area, contact your local Area Agency on Aging (or regional equivalent).

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The AlzheimersDisease.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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