Sometimes, They Just Don’t Help

We all hear (and I often say) that asking for help is imperative during a situation like caregiving. You simply have too much to do to do it all yourself.

This is completely true.

Sometimes, though, the message to ask for help doesn’t represent the complete picture.

I attended a webinar yesterday during which the experts kept reiterating that family caregivers need to ask for help. For some reason, this really rubbed me the wrong way. The advice sounded hollow. I wondered if they really understood how complicated that simple advice can be.

Because I’m very interested in the experience of getting help during caregiving, I added a question about how often others help you in our annual survey. Consider the results from our 2013 survey (our latest):

How often do other family members help you?
Answer OptionsResponse Percent
Several times a week.20.3%
Once a week.8.7%
Several times a month.2.9%
Once a month.5.8%
Three or more times a year.11.6%
They don’t help. :(50.7%


Half of survey respondents don’t have help from family members and friends. So, I asked the follow-up question:

If other relatives do not help, why not?
Answer OptionsResponse Percent
They live out-of-town.40.0%
I am the only one (i.e., you are the only adult child or only healthy relative).15.0%
I’ve asked, but they refuse.21.7%
Other (please specify)46.7%


Write-in answers to this question included:

  • My 82 year old father-in-law will occasionally help with my husband’s meds & feed him if I’m not able to get home from work, otherwise his family doesn’t help or even visit & I don’t feel they should be asked to help or visit their brother/uncle.
  • My brothers can’t deal with my mother & the way she is now.
  • They also have serious health issues
  • I never had kids they all have kids to tend
  • they say they cannot take it ( accept it)
  • have young children
  • Have never offered and never had a desire to train
  • Busy with jobs and family
  • One doesn’t have time & the other has physical/emotional problems that limit her
  • they don’t have the physical strength
  • I am told “I just can’t deal with it.”
  • his sons and daughter in laws are into drugs I have heard
  • work commitments
  • Estranged
  • My husband helps but no one else is local (everyone else 800+ miles away)
  • They work and are too busy
  • One say it is to hard to see them that way, and the other said she has to take care of her daughter and don’t have time.
  • Poor health for one and my own brother is not interested.  Our only daughter now lives 2000 mi. away.
  • They barely communicate with us at all.
  • they too busy
  • not sure why his family isn’t more involved, mine is
  • I would say there’s no time or just don’t know how or what to do.
  • too caught up in their own lives
  • not sure, they just never have
  • they are “unable” to help
  • they aren’t interested

I guess what bothered me most about the comments I heard yesterday is that lack of recognition that it’s not as easy as simply asking for help. It’s hard to ask for help! It’s hard to ask for help every week for a situation that can last ten years and longer. During a recent presentation I gave to a group of family caregivers, one family caregiver shared this insight: It’s easy to help when you only have to help for a week or two. Finding someone who will help you for years is tough.

I often think of Michelle, a former family caregiver I met last year at a mutual friend’s baby shower. She’s one of five children. One brother helped her care for their parents. She asked and asked and asked and asked the other three siblings to help. They just didn’t (or couldn’t).

I also was bothered by the idea that it’s because the family caregiver doesn’t ask for help that the experience is really difficult. Asking for help and then not receiving help makes the situation heart-breaking and really depressing. Sometimes, we’re reticent to ask for help. At times, we don’t ask because we feel it’s important that  we complete the task or responsibility. At times, we don’t because it’s hard to keep asking for help. At times, we don’t simply because we don’t have anyone to ask to help.

We all need help. It’s true. It’s not as simple as asking for help when you’re caring for a family member with a chronic illness or injury or frailty. And, it’s never easy when you take into account the family dynamics and dysfunction.

What do you think? Please share your experiences and thoughts in our comments section, below.


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4 Comments on "Sometimes, They Just Don’t Help"

Profile photo of EllysGdaughter
Feb 28, 2014

I agree with your assessment of the webinar, it is NOT just a matter of caregivers asking for help that is the problem. Your survey answers the question, Why is it hard for some caregivers to get/ask for help! There are no easy answers as we know and sharing our strategies here make it so much easier to get over the hurdles of situations where caregivers don’t have help. That is why I love being here!

Profile photo of Pegi
Feb 28, 2014

Too often it just isn’t there. No one, nowhere. I, personally, dislike the generic “let me know if there is something I can do”. Or “if you would have asked, we’d help”. The later of the two is kind of like I’m holding a coupon, and don’t want to spend it before I really need to. My husband has three siblings, one of which is a retired nurse with no committments. Any reason she isn’t here? I’m pretty sure one of the “excuses” your survey shows, would apply. As EllysGdaughter said, its easier to just figure it out on you own than to count on anyone else. Too often the case.

Mar 3, 2014

First, excuse me for this lengthy comment. I have been caring for my husband for 11 years. He is now homebound, bedbound and has been since the fall of 2013 so the scope of care has greatly intensified. I have discovered that after a few years of caregiving that people just take for granted that “you can do it” or “you really have this under control”. Most people have never done this for this length of time so they really just don’t understand. Yes, after 11 years you do get tired. Really tired. And as the depth of caregiving becomes more intense you find yourself going out less and doing less things for yourself. Most of the reasons for this is that you are just tired, you have learned to expect nothing from others and many of those friends that you used to socialize with just drift away. I rarely ask for help. On a positive note at this time we are blessed with good home health care which is providing a CNA and a nurse and we also have a home-visiting doctor. These three people are our most precious perks to caregiving. I also pay a friend to come twice a week so that I can work, run errands and go to the doctor. Since I have been caregiving for such a length of time I have seen how expectations of extra assistance have been dwindling over the years. I also am aware that due to health care laws that have changed drastically in the last year that continuing home health will not occur and will slowly decrease through this year. The real burden of caregiving will then again fall solely on my shoulders. I do this out of love for my husband and would not ever believe that any facility could do what I do at home.

Misty JG
Mar 5, 2014

I have actually been told that if any one would willingly take on the caregiving responsibilities then there is no way I could get any paid assistance and on the flip side they would pay any family member to take training and then pay them to care for my son for so many hours a week. I have never even used respite. I used a special needs day care but the severity of behaviors were being copied by my then young son which would be expected by any kid in a group of kids so we just quit going. I have been doing this alone for the better part of 18 years. Friends just disappeared some even said because they can’t handle it or they just didn’t know what to say or do. Specialists, Therapists, and Doctors have even moved on and been changed out over the years. Even a husband or two has been unable to maintain. Thankfully my current husband is amazing and has been the record holder with 7 years in this with us. I did show some great abilities with my CNA training for certification a few years back but besides feeling good for being the “smartest” in my class it feels pointless because I can’t be away from home long enough to work a full time paying position. There is nothing but the breaks taken when I can no longer take it and by then it is barely enough to recover and resume the norm. It just feels like existing without the enjoying. I just wish there was a routine that included some more time without worry about tasks or medical issue. The most relief would be found in someone uttering the words “Don’t worry, I can take care of this”, especially if it was from the mouth of someone who compassionately and truly could.