How to Be the Best Caregiver/Care Coach You Can Be (Part Two)


Barb Resnick HeadshotBarbara Resnick, PhD, CRNP
Sonya Ziporkin Gershowitz Chair in Gerontology
University of Maryland School of Nursing

Remember my recent blog post about being a terrific caregiver and care coach?  Here are some more tips based on my professional and personal experience.

Remember, Actions Speak Louder Than Words

You may not be an individual’s primary caregiver or care coach. You may just want to show you care. We all have people in our lives we really care about who have received some type of life-threatening or life-impacting diagnosis.  It could be anything from experiencing a hip fracture or a stroke, or a cancer diagnosis requiring treatment or palliative care management (comfort care).

It is hard in these situations to know how to respond and what to do.  Personally, I am a big believer in “actions speak louder than words.”  It never hurts to reach out to someone you care about who is undergoing treatment or who needs help and support coping with a long-term illness or disability.

Never be afraid to just DO or SAY something. Don’t be afraid to let the person know you heard about their illness and wish them well.  Show you care in any and every way.  Don’t hesitate because you are afraid you are intruding on the person’s privacy. If you heard about their illness, it is no secret!

Avoid Useless Gestures

Personally, I recommend against saying things like “let me know if I can do anything” or “call me if there is anything I can do.”  Essentially, when someone is ill they are not likely to pick up the phone and call for help.

Instead of empty gestures, provide words of encouragement that may have helped you in the past. For example, when I first started my course of radiation and chemotherapy, a colleague sent me a quote that Christopher Robin said to Winnie the Pooh:  “Promise me you’ll always remember that you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”  I put this on my desktop and read it daily to help me through my own challenging treatment. 

Share What Has Helped You Be Resilient

Resilience is the ability to cope with and recover from difficult situations.  While everyone is different, think about what has helped you to be resilient in challenging situations and to bounce back.  Share these tidbits with your friends or loved ones. It might be a certain prayer that carried you through or a good book to read as a pleasant distraction.

Show You Care, Repeatedly

If you really care, then show it through repeated check-ins. Even though it may be hard, educate yourself about the disease the individual has and the course of treatment they will be enduring. Then check in with them at times you know will be most difficult for them.

For example, with cancer treatment it is generally not the day of treatment that is hard but the days after treatment when the symptoms really hit. Find out their treatment schedule and check in spontaneously and reach out.  Never fear calling or sending an email or a card. You will know by the person’s response if it helps. Social support is critical to building their confidence that they can get through the course of treatment and optimize recovery.

Take Care of Yourself

If you take on the role of caregiver or care coach, the first and most important step is for you to take care of yourself. You can’t possibly give support to your family members or friends unless you are strong yourself. Set limits if you need to and make sure you do the things that keep you happy and healthy.


6 thoughts on “How to Be the Best Caregiver/Care Coach You Can Be (Part Two)

  1. You have done so much work on caregiving. Your words of wisdom speak LOUDLY to me.
    A very dear friend developed advanced COPD at age 57, not a smoker, and got down to 80 lbs. She disliked doctors and always hated “us medical people” giving advice. Last Fall, she went on oxygen and avoided her friends, hid from us, always busy, phone talk only….
    In May, on the pushing of her husband, I convinced her to get together with my family. (O2 and all) (I had not SEEN her in 9 months). June 15 she came over for a BBQ at my house, we both had boys who graduated college… a reason to celebrate. An old times evening, fun and all.
    On June 26 she died of a heart attack at age 60 while her husband was cooking dinner. I kick myself for not dropping in on her and encouraging her. I miss her dearly. YOU stay strong 🙂

  2. Barbara, Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom. They come when my family is experiencing a difficult time in our lives as well. My mother in law has a diagnosis of brain cancer in May with an life expectancy of 3-6 months. We are struggling as the caregiver or care coach as you phrased it and your thoughts are extremely timely. Thank you for sharing your insight as it has renewed my sense of purpose. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Michele

  3. Barb, I thank you for the wise comments and wish you all the best as you continue on a journey to healing. I was a GNP student of yours at University of MD, graduating in 2004. I was able to be a caregiver and advocate for my husband before he died of stage IV colon cancer in 2015 at the young age of 62. You’re posts are a terrific resource for those caregivers who are not fortunate enough to be geriatric and palliative care practitioners. My role as a GNP in palliative care is one of the blessings, aside from family, friends and neighbors, that helped me to survive a very difficult time and return to the work I love before retiring last year.

  4. Pingback: Building Up Emotional Resilience: The Key to Recovery > Health in Aging Blog > Health in Aging

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