Caring for the Caregivers

10 ways to support your patients' family and friends at bedside

A woman and man sit at the bedside of an older man. They are holding his hands and look sad

Often, we are so busy taking care of our patients that we scarcely have time to notice, let alone nurture, the friend or family caregiver at the bedside. Yet, doing so only takes a few minutes and benefits everyone involved.

Here are some quick, yet effective, ways to care for those at the patient’s bedside:

Sincerely apologize for brusque words or actions.

Too often, our comments to family members are understandably made in haste and may be received badly even if we don’t intend to be rude. Take the caregiver’s hand in yours, look them in the eye and verbally acknowledge their pain. This small gesture will show them you care about them too.

Assure them that you will provide your absolute best possible care.

Tell them you realize that they have entrusted you with their most valuable asset — their loved one — and that you don’t take that lightly.

Cultivate reciprocal feelings of trust.

Show them you’re on their side.

Honor the caregiver’s knowledge of the patient and his or her condition.

Caregivers may have insights born of years of experience with a family member’s health issues. Make them feel part of the caregiving team. They will be much more receptive of your input when you have honored theirs.

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Alleviate their guilt.

Having a family member in the hospital can feel like a personal failure, especially for parents of sick children or adult offspring caring for a sick parent. Just a few words on your part can ease their burden.

Tell them the truth, gently and honestly.

Feeling ill-informed or being kept out of the loop is a source of great anxiety for caregivers.

Remind them to care for themselves, physically, mentally and spiritually.

Encourage them to eat regularly, visit the chapel or walk in the garden. Offer them any educational material or inspirational literature your facility may have for caregivers.  Above all, give them permission to take time for themselves. Remind them that they cannot care effectively for their loved one if they are weak, sick or neglecting their own well-being. (This is a lesson nurses know all too well.)

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Be patient with their impatience.

Caregivers are often exhausted, upset and worried beyond their ability to cope, which makes tempers short and patience shorter.

Connect them with the social services department in your facility.

Most hospitals have resources for caregivers, offering support and much-needed assistance. Sometimes, local communities do as well.


When you smile, they will too — maybe for the first time that day.


These actions will also help you save time — difficult family members can impede patient care, so anything you can do to alleviate their frustrations will ultimately make your job easier. Your patient will notice your compassion and understanding, which contributes to their healing and peace, while the caregiver will feel cared for, providing some much-needed relief in a stressful situation.

LeANN THIEMAN LPN, CSP, CPAE is the author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul for Nurses series and Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul and founder of the transformational yearlong SelfCare for HealthCare™ program. www.SelfCareforHealthCare.com.

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