Sometimes, They Just Don't Help


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 Options Response 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 Options Response 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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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!