Caring for the Caregiver: 10 Suggestions

Often those of us in the healthcare profession are so busy taking care of the patient that we scarcely have time to notice, let alone nurture, the friend or family caregiver at the bedside. Yet it can take only minutes, and doing so benefits everyone involved.

These 10 suggestions will help you care for the caregiver and the patient:

  1. Take their hand in yours, look them in the eye and verbally acknowledge their pain. Too often our comments to caregivers are made in haste while we are making rounds or doing treatments. This small gesture of touch shows them you sincerely care about them, too.
  2. Tell them you realize that they have entrusted you with their greatest treasure-their loved one-and assure them you will provide them with your absolute best possible care.
  3. Cultivate reciprocal feelings of trust-you for them, and they for you. Show them you’re on their side.
  4. Honor their knowledge of the patient and his or her condition. Let them know you realize they know the patient best. They will be much more receptive of your input when you have honored theirs. Make them feel part of the caregiving team.
  5. Alleviate their sense of guilt. The family member frequently harbors feelings of blame about their loved one’s illness. Just a few words on your part can ease their burden.
  6. Tell them the truth, gently and honestly. Being fooled or ill-informed is one of the caregiver’s greatest worries.
  7. Remind them to care for themselves physically, mentally and spiritually. Encourage them to eat regularly, visit the chapel or walk in the garden. Have your facility subscribe to caregiving magazines, which offer knowledge and tools for coping. Provide uplifting, inspirational books to give caregivers hope and healing. Give them permission to take time for themselves. Remind them that they cannot care for their loved one if they are weak and sick; often they’ll take better care of themselves not for their own sake but for that of their loved one. 
  8. Be patient with their impatience. Caregivers are often guilt-ridden, exhausted and worried beyond their ability to cope.
  9. Put caregivers in touch with your facility’s or community’s social services departments. Most have resources for caregivers, offering support and much-needed assistance.
  10. Smile. The caregiver’s facial expression will probably mirror yours. When you smile, so will the caregiver-maybe for the first time that day.

These 10 suggestions will benefit you, the patient and the caregiver. You will save time, as difficult family members can impede patient care. Your heart (and feet!) will ache less. The patient will notice your compassionate understanding and treatment of the caregiver, which contributes to his or her healing and peace. And the caregiver will feel cared for-a much-needed and long-overdue reward.

LeAnn Thieman is a nationally acclaimed speaker and co-author of the New York Times best seller “Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul” and the recent “Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul.” A nurse involved with the 1975 Vietnam Orphan Lift, Thieman has found fulfillment in caring for others and teaching people to do the same. She is an expert on creating life/work balance, living priorities and making a difference in the world. For more information, visit or call (877) THIEMAN