How to aid a sick family member

Get tips and information to help you care for your loved one with special medical needs, including programs for family members of veterans and people with disabilities to get paid to provide care.

On This Page

  • Help and Support for Caregivers
  • Get Paid as a Caregiver for a Family Member

Help and Support for Caregivers

As a caregiver for a parent, spouse, or child with special needs, you may need help. These resources and suggestions can help you find emotional and task support.

Federal Government Caregiver Resources

Alzheimer’s Caregiving – Find out from the National Institute on Aging how to be a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Learn skills for coping with a loved one’s behavioral changes.

Caregiver Resources – The National Institute of Health’s MedlinePlus site has an overview of caregiver services. It also offers resources to help you protect your own health.

Caring for the Caregiver – This resource from the National Cancer Institute is for family and friends who are caring for a person with cancer.

Managing Someone Else’s Money Guide – The family member you’re caring for may not be able to handle their bills themselves. Get information about managing their finances from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The VA Caregiver Support Line helps people caring for veterans. Find services and benefits for your loved one and get support for yourself.

Office on Women’s Health Caregiver Page – Get tips on how to prevent or relieve caregiver stress and how to find and pay for home health care services.

State and Local Caregiver Support Resources

Finding Local Services – Use this list from the Department of Health and Human Services to find a variety of government and non-government resources. Compare home health agencies, or use the Eldercare Locator to connect with senior services.

Additional Support for Caregivers

If you’re not able to leave your loved one at home but need emotional support, an online support group might be a good option. Be careful not to give out detailed personal, medical, or financial information to anyone online to protect against fraud or scams.

Get Paid as a Caregiver for a Family Member

A caregiver helps a person with special medical needs in performing daily activities. Tasks include shopping for food and cooking, cleaning the house, and giving medicine. Many government programs allow family members of veterans and people with disabilities to get paid for caring for them.

The Medicaid Self-Directed Care program lets qualified people manage their own health services. It also lets them hire family members as caregivers in some states.

The Veteran-Directed Home and Community Based Services program offers veterans a flexible budget. This allows them to choose goods and services they find most useful, including hiring a family member or neighbor as a personal care aide.

Aid and Attendance benefits for veterans work in conjunction with a VA pension. These benefits help cover the costs of a caregiver, who may be a family member. Contact the VA pension management center in your area for rules and conditions.

Long-Term Care Insurance allows family members to be paid as caregivers. But some policies won’t pay family members who live with the person they’re caring for. Contact your family member’s insurance agent for more information. You can also ask the agent for a written confirmation of benefits.

Do you have a question?

Ask a real person any government-related question for free. They’ll get you the answer or let you know where to find it.

I feel like I can’t start this post off without at least acknowledging what it is currently going on. This is a crazy time that we are currently living in. When you think about it, our own parents didn’t even deal with a pandemic of this magnitude. None of us saw this coming.

Grocery stores limiting the number of people in stores.

Retail parking lots practically empty.

Waffle Houses closed. (They NEVER close!)

None of this is a laughing matter and this pandemic cannot be taken lightly as this coronavirus spreads with more and more individuals being confirmed to have it. A lot of people have been able to recover and go about their lives. However, some people haven’t been as lucky and wind up getting sicker.

I felt that it was only appropriate to discuss how we can cope with having a sick family member. This can even be applicable once we come out on the other side of this pandemic. Whether you are dealing with a sick spouse, parent, grandmother, or a close friend that feels like family, I hope this finds you. Here, I will dive into 4 ways to cope with a sick family member.

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How to aid a sick family member

Cry About It

If you have read my previous posts about being a first-time mom or dealing with postpartum depression, then you know I am all about the emotions. Let them all out. The easiest one is anger. And you should be angry. It’s not fair. Why is this happening? Every single thing that comes to mind, allow a moment for it to remain there with all the guilt that comes with it.

However, being angry about the situation isn’t the only emotion that is present. You and I both know that. Ever wonder why some people cry when they are really angry or upset? It’s because the anger can only mask what is underneath for so long.

Sadness is an emotion that some people have a hard time with because of the physical act of crying. But, sometimes you just need to cry. Just as much as you are allowed to be angry, you can be just as sad. Be sad that this special person in your life is suffering and you feel helpless about it. It’s an awful feeling and one completely out of your control. If you needed someone to give you permission to cry, you just got it.

Talk About It

Once you have gotten a better handle of all the emotions, it’s time to confront it. You have got to talk about it. To dismiss and tiptoe around what is going on only harms that person. Ask questions about their illness and what to expect in time. This will give you back some of that control that you felt like you may have lost .

I know that this will be hard especially if you don’t like what is being said. However, the more informed you are the better prepared you will be. I know I wouldn’t go into a battle without the proper armor on. If you want to help this person, put on that armor and get ready to fight for them. They need you to fight for them. With the proper information and tools, you can do just that. But, you have to get informed first.

Find Some Joy About It

This can be a really sad time for this person. They are ultimately the ones who are really sick and dealing with these circumstances. Of course, you should allow yourself to process your feelings and determine what to do about it. However, don’t forget to find joy in some of those small moments.

Not every conversation you have with them has to be about the illness. If you were sick, would you want to talk about being sick all the time? I didn’t think so and neither will they. They talk about it enough with doctors and other individuals. Make sure you’re informed as mentioned above but provide other topics of relief.

Talk about that episode of The Bachelor or even about that basketball game that came on last night. Laughter is a form of medicine. Find ways to laugh together. If there were things that you both did together before they got sick, keep doing them if it’s feasible. This will provide a sense of normalcy that you both could benefit from. You can even create new experiences together that becomes a “thing” that you both do.

Don’t Forget About Yourself

This is really important. Almost as important as being present for your ill loved one. Don’t neglect yourself. You matter too even in the midst of everything. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but you do.

As I have said before, you want to help them right? Help them by taking care of yourself. You need to know your limits and boundaries so you are not wearing yourself thin or feeling burned out. Make sure you are getting some rest and not missing any meals. This is really easy to do when you are worried about someone else.

Reach Out For Help

Lastly, reach out for help. You can’t cope with a sick family member all by yourself. Seek help if everything is starting to feel overwhelming. None of this easy and you shouldn’t have to feel like you have it completely together all of the time.

Join support groups, lean into other family members and friends, and engage in self-care when you need it. If you are needing some self-care ideas for those overwhelming times and need a break, check out these ideas in the link below. This post was directed towards stay at home moms, but you don’t have to be a mom to engage in some self-care.

Your Turn

Now that I have discussed how you can cope with a sick family member, it’s your turn. If you are currently dealing with an ill loved one and wouldn’t mind sharing you cope with a sick family member, feel free to share in the comments below. We could all use some tips during this time and while you are still here, check out this blog post on what to do when you are not ok below. Until next time!

How to aid a sick family member

Finding effective ways for how to cope with a sick family member who has an illness is not an easy task. A variety of emotions and factors come into play that can be difficult to deal with in the midst of life’s daily stresses. Whether you’re having to care for them directly or are just unsure of what to say or do around them, try some of these tips below. Understanding how to cope with a sick family member surely isn’t easy, but it is possible with these effective suggestions.

Table of contents:

1 Ask for Help

One of the first things you should know when learning how to cope with a sick family member is that you probably can’t do it alone. You’re going to need some help from friends and family in terms of care and emotional support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help getting the family member to the doctor, paying for expenses, and sitting with them while you work. It’s impossible to do alone, so don’t try. You’ll only stress yourself out, and be less effective at caring for them.

2 Manage Your Stress

When caring for a sick family member, you need to be sure to manage your stress however possible. Coping with a sick family member can lead to depression, and even heart disease if you let your stress become out of control. Remember, you’re a person and have to put your health at the top priority, so you can be there for your family as best as possible.

3 Consider Financial Assistance

One of the biggest stresses on families who need help caring for sick family members is the financial expense. Consider asking for financial assistance from the hospital, a friend, family, or a community outreach program. There are options out there that can help you pay for expenses during this time, and some may even be able to cover the whole cost. Don’t work two jobs and try to care for someone all by yourself without asking for help first. You might have better options that are out there for you.

4 Don’t Be Afraid

Many people find themselves fearful of how to deal with family members during a time of illness. Don’t be scared to talk to them because you’ll say the wrong thing. You’re not perfect, and most likely, they would rather you talk to them than avoid them altogether. Talking with your family member about everyday things instead of their illness is also a great way to give their mind a break from thinking about their illness.

5 Don’t Try to Understand It All

If you try to wrap your brain around all the issues that come with a family illness, you’ll drive yourself crazy. Understand they might do and say things you don’t understand while they’re sick. They might also say things to you they don’t mean. Or, you might simply find it hard to know what they’re going through emotionally. Try to be as compassionate as possible, even when it’s hard and whatever you do, don’t try to understand everything yourself. You’ll drive yourself crazy and won’t be doing them any favors either.

6 Talk with Other Family

Sometimes, it just helps to talk to someone about your struggles, even if those struggles stem from another person, like your family member. Talking with other family about someone who is sick might help both of you be able to deal with things more effectively. And by talking about them, I don’t mean gossip, I mean simply confiding your feelings in one another to work through emotional hardships you might face.

7 Prepare

Lastly, when learning how to cope with someone who has an illness, it’s always best to prepare yourself. Prepare yourself for the worst, and hope for the best, I always say. Also, prepare yourself ahead that you can’t always fix everything, including their illness, and you won’t always do things perfectly. You can also research their illness so you can prepare to care for them the best way possible through their diet, rest, and exercise routines, if any are suggested. Lastly, prepare for their care by starting early and investing in help from others. Doing these things will give you the best emotional support for caring for your family, and for you.

I know many of you might struggle with a sick family member, and if you have any tips for me or anyone else, feel free to share them. Have you ever had to cope with a sick family member?

How to aid a sick family member

Finding effective ways for how to cope with a sick family member who has an illness is not an easy task. A variety of emotions and factors come into play that can be difficult to deal with in the midst of life’s daily stresses. Whether you’re having to care for them directly or are just unsure of what to say or do around them, try some of these tips below. Understanding how to cope with a sick family member surely isn’t easy, but it is possible with these effective suggestions.

Table of contents:

1 Ask for Help

One of the first things you should know when learning how to cope with a sick family member is that you probably can’t do it alone. You’re going to need some help from friends and family in terms of care and emotional support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help getting the family member to the doctor, paying for expenses, and sitting with them while you work. It’s impossible to do alone, so don’t try. You’ll only stress yourself out, and be less effective at caring for them.

2 Manage Your Stress

When caring for a sick family member, you need to be sure to manage your stress however possible. Coping with a sick family member can lead to depression, and even heart disease if you let your stress become out of control. Remember, you’re a person and have to put your health at the top priority, so you can be there for your family as best as possible.

3 Consider Financial Assistance

One of the biggest stresses on families who need help caring for sick family members is the financial expense. Consider asking for financial assistance from the hospital, a friend, family, or a community outreach program. There are options out there that can help you pay for expenses during this time, and some may even be able to cover the whole cost. Don’t work two jobs and try to care for someone all by yourself without asking for help first. You might have better options that are out there for you.

4 Don’t Be Afraid

Many people find themselves fearful of how to deal with family members during a time of illness. Don’t be scared to talk to them because you’ll say the wrong thing. You’re not perfect, and most likely, they would rather you talk to them than avoid them altogether. Talking with your family member about everyday things instead of their illness is also a great way to give their mind a break from thinking about their illness.

5 Don’t Try to Understand It All

If you try to wrap your brain around all the issues that come with a family illness, you’ll drive yourself crazy. Understand they might do and say things you don’t understand while they’re sick. They might also say things to you they don’t mean. Or, you might simply find it hard to know what they’re going through emotionally. Try to be as compassionate as possible, even when it’s hard and whatever you do, don’t try to understand everything yourself. You’ll drive yourself crazy and won’t be doing them any favors either.

6 Talk with Other Family

Sometimes, it just helps to talk to someone about your struggles, even if those struggles stem from another person, like your family member. Talking with other family about someone who is sick might help both of you be able to deal with things more effectively. And by talking about them, I don’t mean gossip, I mean simply confiding your feelings in one another to work through emotional hardships you might face.

7 Prepare

Lastly, when learning how to cope with someone who has an illness, it’s always best to prepare yourself. Prepare yourself for the worst, and hope for the best, I always say. Also, prepare yourself ahead that you can’t always fix everything, including their illness, and you won’t always do things perfectly. You can also research their illness so you can prepare to care for them the best way possible through their diet, rest, and exercise routines, if any are suggested. Lastly, prepare for their care by starting early and investing in help from others. Doing these things will give you the best emotional support for caring for your family, and for you.

I know many of you might struggle with a sick family member, and if you have any tips for me or anyone else, feel free to share them. Have you ever had to cope with a sick family member?

Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.

Anju Goel, MD, MPH, is a board-certified physician who specializes in public health, communicable disease, diabetes, and health policy.

It’s a common problem—one person in the family gets sick and illness quickly spreads to the other family members. While it isn’t always possible to avoid getting sick when someone in the house is contagious, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a lot of ways you can minimize your chances and stay well. Likewise, there’s much you can do to keep your family well if you are sick.

How to aid a sick family member

If Someone Else Is Sick

The important things for keeping yourself healthy when there’s a sick person in your house is to limit your exposure to their germs and take good care of yourself.

  • Wash your hands—a lot. In addition to all the times you should wash them anyway, such as after you use the bathroom and before you eat, you should also wash them whenever you touch things that sick family members have been touching. If you don’t have soap and water available and your hands aren’t visibly soiled, use hand sanitizing gel or wipes.  
  • Clean toys that sick children have been playing with thoroughly and frequently.
  • Do not share food or drinks, along with drinking cups or eating utensils, and make sure all dishes are cleaned with hot water and soap after use.
  • Avoid touching your face. It’s easy for germs to travel from your hands into your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • If your partner or spouse is sick, it is probably best to sleep in separate rooms. If this is not an option, at least try to sleep facing in opposite directions and wash your sheets frequently in hot water, or wear a face mask while sleeping.
  • Avoid kissing and hugging those who are sick. Colds and many other respiratory infections are spread by droplet transmission. That basically means that germs live in and are spread through your saliva and nasal secretions, and kissing or close contact can bring you into contact with those germs.  
  • Be aware that pretty much anything that is touched by a sick family member, such as the remote control, could potentially have germs on it. Some types of cold viruses can live on objects for days, so a thorough cleaning of anything that could be shared by family members is essential.
  • Make sure you don’t use the same hand towel as the sick person.
  • Don’t share toothbrushes and try not to let your toothbrush come in contact with the sick person’s toothbrush.  
  • Take care of yourself by eating a nutrient-dense diet, staying hydrated, and getting enough rest. It’s hard to do those things when you’re taking care of sick kids, but try to maintain good habits as much as possible so your body isn’t rundown.

As a preventive measure, get a flu shot every year, especially if you have young kids in the house.  

Teach your children to follow healthy habits like hand washing and sneezing into the elbow or a tissue. Kids bring all kinds of germs home from school or daycare, then spread them to other family members. Good health habits can help cut down on illness in your household.

If You’re the One Who’s Sick

Most of the above tips apply here as well, but you can do a few extra things to protect others in the household from your germs.

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, not your hands. This will help you minimize the chances that you will pass on your germs via droplet transmission or when touching objects around the house.
  • Throw your dirty tissues away immediately after using them. Leaving dirty tissues around can help spread germs around your house.
  • Consider wearing a face mask if you are contagious and must be in close contact with someone, such as a baby you need to care for.
  • Try to isolate yourself by minimizing time spent with family members and stick to a six-foot distance when you’re in the same room to best avoid germ transmission.
  • Avoid preparing food for others when you can. If you have to prepare a meal for someone, wash your hands thoroughly first.

A Word From Verywell

Sometimes, even your best efforts won’t prevent all illnesses from spreading through the family. If any member has cold symptoms that seem especially severe or last longer than 10 days, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure your cold hasn’t turned into something more serious. For the flu, you can talk to your doctor about medications that can shorten the duration.

It is always difficult to see a family member suffering with a medical condition whether it is a parent, sibling or one of your own children. You will, of course, want to do everything in your power to help them, but it is also important that you take care of yourself and seek help from those around you. It can be hard to know what to do in these scenarios, especially if the individual was previously independent or if you do not have much experience in caring for those that need it. For those who need it, here is some advice on how you can care for a family member when they are suffering from any kind of medical condition or illness.

Research
One of the best ways to provide care is to fully understand what the condition is. You can do this by speaking to their healthcare professional but also by researching online. This information will give you a better idea of what they are going through, and you can also discover ways that you can be of assistance.

Stay Organized
It can be near impossible for an individual to stay on top of medication, appointments, etc. when they are sick, so lighten their load by keeping on top of all this information for them. Even minor illnesses can require lots of appointments, tests, and medication, and this can make it difficult to stay on top of, so it is incredibly helpful if there is somebody to handle all of this information nearby.

Monitor and Support Them
It is important to be near the person and provide support and comfort throughout this difficult time. If it is a family member that lives far away (such as an aging parent), consider having them move in with you so that you can provide the care that they need. This is easier than ever nowadays with a commercial medical escort where you can arrange non-emergency medical transport for those who need to fly from A to B. By enlisting the help of an escort, a flight coordinator will handle the planning, taking some of the weight from your shoulders. Although important to monitor and support, be sure not to be overbearing as this can be frustrating when suffering from an illness and many people like to be left alone when sick.

Ask For Help
Caring for a sick family member can take its toll both physically and emotionally. Do not be afraid of asking for help from fellow family members, friends or neighbors. This can lighten the load and also allow you to take care of yourself. Additionally, there are community resources like support groups that can be hugely helpful for carers.

Take Care Of Yourself
Always take the time to look after yourself as this is easy to neglect when caring for a loved one. Be sure to eat a healthy diet, get enough rest and exercise. Additionally, it is important to schedule in social activities so that you can seek support from friends.

Caring for a loved one that is sick can be one of the hardest jobs in the world, but it is also vital that you are there for them. It can be scary and intimidating, but hopefully the above will help you to give them the support they need while also ensuring that you look after yourself too.

Need help finding care?

The short answer is “Maybe”. Some states provide programs that pay family members to care for loved ones at home however they are usually somewhat limited. These programs vary widely from state to state and even within the same state. Although most states offer some type of respite or temporary relief for family caregivers, they often won’t pay them on a regular basis to provide home care leaving big gaps in caregiver services.

About Family Caregivers

Most long-term care in the US is provided by informal and unpaid family caregivers. Family caregivers are undoubtedly the backbone of our long-term care system and vital to meeting the needs of our aging population. As a result of our country’s dependence on families to care for loved ones at home, the federal government enacted the Family Caregiver Support Program (FCSP) in 2000.

Search Family Caregiver Support By State

Family Caregiver Support Program

All states now provide some type of support in varying degrees under FCSP which focuses efforts on family caregiving relief. State units on aging with assistance of local area agencies on aging oversee and administer family caregiving services. Many local programs offer family counseling and support groups, training, and respite care to give family caregivers a break. Search state contacts below to learn more about specific help offered in your area for family caregivers.

Tap into Local Resources

Information about additional family support programs may also be available through contacting your local social services, senior services, or county health departments. In some states, Medicaid (government health insurance for low-income Americans) will pay family caregivers to provide care to family members at home. However, note that Medicare (government health insurance for older Americans) will not pay for long-term or ongoing home care regardless of whether such services are provided through an agency or a family member. Take some time to research programs in your area that might be applicable to your situation including any reimbursement for family caregivers.

You might also consider trying the Family Care Navigator offered by the Family Caregiver Alliance for additional information on this topic.

How to aid a sick family member

About the Author

Clare Absher is a Registered Nurse with 41 years of experience. Most of her experience is in home health serving as a caregiver, educator, patient advocate, and liaison between families and community resources. She has also worked in acute care, assisted living, and retirement settings. She is passionate about helping families care for their elderly loved ones at home.

Finding out that a family member is seriously ill impacts the entire family. As adults, we will typically have our own wide range of emotions, and may be preoccupied with fear, learning about the illness, and caring for the person who is ill. This is compounded by the need to understand and navigate medical treatments, deal with insurance, as well as balance work and daily responsibilities.

With so much focus on the family member who is ill, the thought of explaining a serious illness to your young child might seem overwhelming, especially if you think your child won’t be able to understand what is happening.

The reality is that regardless of how we may try to keep information private and family activities routine, children overhear conversations. They realize at some level that we are not fully present. Their reactions, of course, will be more intense if the sick family member is living in your home. When they see a sibling, grandparent or parent in bed or going to appointments, they feel the sadness that radiates at home and they know that something is wrong.

The lack of knowledge fills their lives with uncertainty and increased fear. By sharing appropriate information, you enable your child to:

  • Trust that adults will give her information that she needs
  • Work through her own feelings
  • Be included rather than isolated
  • Feel safe asking questions
  • Be able to help in her own way

As long as your child has verbal skills, there are ways to communicate about the illness, treatments and if appropriate, the prognosis. The amount of information a child can handle depends upon her stage of development. A child’s understanding of illness and death changes dramatically as she develops.

Every family needs to judge for themselves what their child can understand. Physicians, social workers, clergy and therapists can share resources and guide you through the conversations that help your family situation. Below are a few general tips:

Plan for the Conversation

Think about when and where to have it, e.g. mornings rather than at bedtime; sitting on a couch rather than in the car. Plan what you want to say and how you intend to say it. Talk with other adults, role play, or look at resources before starting the conversation. Be aware of your tone and body language. Think about your child’s ability to comprehend and process information.

Start the Conversation

With a young child, it’s best to keep the explanation simple. “We are sad because Pop-pop is sick. He has a disease called diabetes. We are visiting the doctor a lot so we can learn how to take care of Pop-pop.” Give children information but also give them time to process it. Observe your child’s reaction and respond honestly, in simple language. If optimism is realistic, be reassuring.

Pertinent information that you might provide depends on the age of your child. Consider sharing:

  • The name of the disease or illness
  • Ways that your child might help the family member
  • Changes that might be made to the environment (i.e., addition of oxygen or an I.V.)
  • Whether the disease is contagious

Support for Your Healthy Child

At times it’s difficult to focus on your healthy child when there is a family member who is seriously ill. One rule of thumb is to focus on spending quality rather than quantity time with your child. Try to be fully present when you are together. Offer lots of physical contact, ask questions about his/her thoughts and feelings, and let him/her know that you miss spending more time together. Below are a few tips for supporting a child:

  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings (anger, sadness, jealousy, worry, guilt, etc), but also understand that young children can’t always label their feelings and may instead express them through their actions. For example, your child may be more whiny or clingy than usual. Be accepting of these kinds of changes.
  • Find ways for your child if she wants to help; e.g. push a wheelchair, carry a backpack for the person who is ill, dictate sentiments on a card or draw pictures.
  • Carefully consider whether it is appropriate for your child to visit the hospital. Will it be reassuring to your child or perhaps upsetting? If you do decide to have your child visit the hospital, explain in advance how her family member will look to help prepare her.
  • Keep routines as consistent as possible; prepare your child for anticipated changes in her day, and when possible make her part of the process by giving choices.

Every family feels differently about sharing private matters; however it is important to communicate with other significant adults in your child’s life. Teachers and caregivers who have a trusting relationship with your child can be a tremendous support for your family. They may be able to give your child extra love and attention and be aware of feelings that are expressed by different behaviors.

Helping children deal with a family member’s serious illness can be challenging. By talking with children about the illness, you may relieve their fears, legitimize their feelings, and give them the message that they are respected members of the family.

More Resources on This Topic

  • KidsHealth tackles the challenging topic of Caring for Siblings of Seriously Ill Children.
  • BabyCenter provides resources for parents of preschoolers in How to talk to your child when someone is seriously ill.
  • The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute offers advice for parents: Talking to your children about cancer.