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Don't forget the sacrifices of caregivers

As the holiday season begins to wind down, don't forget those caring for an elderly relative or friend.

A lot of them are making enormous sacrifices. About one in six people who have a full-time or part-time job say they have to care for an elderly or disabled family member, relative or friend, according to Gallup research sponsored by Pfizer and ReACT (or Respect a Caregiver's Time) -- a coalition of corporations and organizations trying to address challenges faced by employee caregivers. The research found that workers are forced to miss an average of 6.6 days per year because of caregiving responsibilities.

Amy Goyer, a family expert for AARP who is the primary caregiver for her elderly parents, recently wrote a wonderful blog about her holiday gift list that I'm sure speaks for a lot of people in the same situation.

"The gifts caregivers most want are not big-ticket items," Goyer says. "They are the things that soothe our souls, give us a smile and make us feel less alone. This is an important and challenging time in our lives and we often have no idea how long it will continue."

The majority of caregivers participating in the poll said they have been providing care for three years or more.

So what could you give a caregiver? Here are just a few things on Goyer's list:

*Listen. As my pastor often says, God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Often caregivers just want to vent or sound out a decision they have to make. "If you feel like you don't know how to help the caregiver in your life," says Goyer, "remember that sometimes just listening is indeed helping."

*Offer encouragement. Goyer writes: "I'm constantly questioning and trying to do things better! But what about the positives? What about the things I'm doing right?"

I so identify with that plea. I've been the caregiver for several relatives and it's frustrating to get critical remarks that outweigh the number of times someone says you're doing a good job, especially when the people with lots of opinions and criticism aren't helping very much with the caregiving.

*Help out. Here's something people often say that Goyer believes isn't very helpful: "Let me know if there is anything I can do to help." People who are busy caring for others often don't have the energy to list all the things they need help with doing. Or they may be too proud to ask for help. Be specific in what help you can offer.

Now that you know what a caregiver might need, here are some suggestions on how to make those wishes tangible.

*Create a gift certificate that gives the caregiver six 20-minute venting sessions. When redeemed, you just listen to whatever he or she needs to talk about.

Money Management International, a credit-counseling agency, has a site where you can personalize a holiday gift certificate. You can choose from five different backgrounds and you just type in what the bearer of the gift certificate will receive. Go to and click on the link for "Gift Certificates."

*Find funny and encouraging greeting cards and every month send a card to the caregiver. Or set up a schedule to send a monthly e-card. You can find free e-cards at,, and If you want access to premium cards, you may have to sign up for a subscription. And Goyer says don't get offended if the person doesn't have a chance to acknowledge the card.
Use the personalized gift certificate to volunteer for a regular household task. Gallup found that caregivers spend a lot of their time on tasks such as going shopping, doing laundry and providing transportation.

Caregivers also have to take care of a lot of administrative-type responsibilities such as researching care services, coordinating physician visits and managing financial matters. Give a gift certificate that offers to do a specific task such as cooking a meal.

*Buy a caregiver a gift certificate to a spa. will help you find a spa facility in your area. (This gift might need to come with an offer to sit with the elderly relative while the person gets the spa treatment.)