Caregiver tips

Caregiver tips (Tony Latham, Stone photo via Getty Images)

Find humor and practice gratitude.

What you can do for caregivers

Call. Let the caregiver vent. Ask how the caregiver is doing. "It's too easy to just say How's Mary, How's Mary, How's Mary, and forget that Mary has a caregiver who is the linchpin to Mary's treatment," Cornwall said.

Take over the caregiving duties for a few hours or a few days so that the caregiver can take a break, Schall said.

Have family conferences throughout the year, but especially before the holidays when everyone comes together, to discuss how to delegate duties surrounding a loved one's care needs, Huysman said. It can help to have it mediated by a third party, like a geriatric care manager.

Offer to do specific things to help: rake the leaves; take out the garbage; put up the holiday decorations; pick up things from the supermarket; take the kids to the movies; accompany the patient to treatment. Think about your own to-do list for other ideas. One caregiver Cornwall interviewed said that what she really wanted was someone to come clean the bathroom. Offer regularly.

Suggest opportunities for the caregiver to get away. Invite the caregiver to have coffee, go to the movies or go to the spa for a day of beauty — activities that are totally different from caregiving role, Brandt said.

Be festive, optimistic and talk about things other than the patient's condition. "You're helping them remember not only what life has been, but also what they have to look forward to once the (illness) is behind them," Cornwall said.

By the numbers

20.4 hours Average number of hours per week a caregiver spends providing care.

4.6 years Average duration of a caregiver's role.

66 percent Percentage of caregivers who are women. The number of male caregivers is increasing.

17 percent Percentage of caregivers who say their health has gotten worse as a result of their caregiving responsibilities.

$450 billion The economic value of family caregiving in 2009, based on 42.1 million caregivers age 18 and older providing an average of 18.4 hours of care weekly to adult care recipients.

Source: National Alliance for Caregiving, AARP.