Caregiver is a position that demands strength, resilience and dedication. It’s also a role that’s perpetually in demand. In the United States, 22.3% of adults say they’ve provided care or assistance to a family or friend in the past 30 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s a responsibility that falls more often to women (one in four) than men (one in five). And the act of caregiving, itself, can take a toll on the caregivers’ mental and physical health. More than half of caregivers (53%) noted that a decline in their health impacts their ability to give care.

Too often, the monumental support that family caregivers provide goes unseen. February 16 is National Caregivers Day. As it approaches, here are some ways to honor and support the caregivers in your life. 

  1. Offer to help — and be specific about the tasks. It’s hard to ask for help. But that doesn’t mean assistance isn’t needed or appreciated. If you have a friend or family member who is busy with their caregiving duties, ask them if you can help, and then share examples of tasks that you could do, such as running errands, ordering groceries, cooking a meal, baking treats or cleaning the house. Some of these gestures may feel small, but they could make a huge difference in another person’s day. 
  2. Give them a break. “Respite care” is the name for short-term, alternative care to give the caregiver a break. Offer to step in for a couple of hours or even days, if you’re comfortable doing so. If that feels like overstepping, research what respite resources are available in your community, which could include services that come to the home, adult day care or even a short stay at a nursing facility. If the caregiver in your life is open to the idea of professional respite care, consider asking them if they’d be comfortable with you holding a fundraiser to help with costs.
  3. Encourage them to seek help if they need it. Support is available for caregivers, but they must know where to look. That’s something you could help with if they’re interested. Online support and in-person support groups offer an opportunity to connect with others with shared circumstances. Mental health professionals can listen to their concerns and offer tips and tools to help them cope (virtual appointments can be a convenient option because there’s no commute). A good place to start is Alabama Cares, which provides information, assistance and resources to family caregivers. 
  4. Make sure they feel included. Caregiving takes time, energy and money, and can feel isolating and lonely. The caregiver may feel stretched thin and might struggle to make time for their own social life. Keep that in mind. And continue to include that person in gathering invitations and text exchanges so they know you’re there for them. At the same time, make sure they aren’t burdened by the outreach and don’t feel obligated to participate.
  5. Be available when they need you. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a caregiver friend is show up. Be there for them if they need to vent or laugh or cry. Say “yes” if they ask to get together. Answer their calls or texts. And give them grace if they can sometimes be hard to reach—it could simply be because they have a lot on their plate right now.

Caregiving is both a challenge and an honor. It’s something that everyone will experience at some point, either on the giving side, the receiving side or both. This month, and every month, do your best to show your appreciation to the caregivers in your life. They give tirelessly, and it’s important that their sacrifices are seen and appreciated.