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Caregivers and care recipients come in all shapes and sizes. When most people think of caregivers, they typically think of family members who are taking care of elderly parents or young children. However, friends can also play an essential role in providing care. Unlike familial caregivers, friends don’t have the same legal rights or obligations. Instead, friends and neighbors may choose to provide care out of a sense of compassion, friendship, or an obligation to the community. Friends can provide both practical and emotional support, and the unique relationship can be a valuable source of comfort for the person receiving care.

How Many Caregivers Care for a Friend?

A study conducted in 2015 by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP concluded that while 85% of caregivers are related to the person they care for, 15% were friends, neighbors, or another type of non-relative (like a coworker, member of their church, or another community member, for example). 

According to this study, self-identified African American caregivers are more likely to care for a nonrelative (23% vs. 13% for all other race/ethnic groups). Other close groups (like the LGBTQ+ community) are also more likely to care for a non-relative within the community.

Caring for a Friend: How the Relationship Changes

If you’re considering becoming a friend caregiver, make sure you understand what the role entails and how it might impact your relationship with the person you’re caring for.

The nature of the relationship between friends can change dramatically when one friend begins taking on the role of caregiver to the other. The caregiver friend may find themselves feeling responsible for the well-being of their friend, and this can lead to a sense of tension or stress. Whatever the illness or injury may be can also create physical and emotional barriers between the friends, making it difficult to connect on a personal level. You’ll both experience things that the other can’t completely relate to.

However, the friendship can often grow stronger despite these challenges as the caregiver provides support and care during difficult times. Ultimately, when friends are able to navigate these changes, they can come out even closer than before.

How to Maintain the Relationship: 3 Tips

Being a caregiver for a friend can be a rewarding experience, but it can also put a strain on the friendship. Here are three ways to maintain the friendship while still providing care:

Communicate openly and honestly with each other about your needs and expectations

Being a caregiver for a friend can be a rewarding experience, but it is also important to be honest about each person’s boundaries, needs, and expectations. Plan to have regular conversations about what each of you can realistically handle, both emotionally and practically. 

Your friend may have care needs you can’t meet, and you may have boundaries your friend can’t cross. These are facts of life, and expectations that should be set and communicated often, as they may also change with time. If they do, talk about that openly and look for ways to adjust the caregiving arrangement.

If either person starts to feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable, it is important to create a safe space to communicate that immediately. By being honest and open with each other, you can ensure that you are both getting your needs met.

Make time for activities that you both enjoy, (even if they have to be modified)

You and your friend built a relationship on mutual interests, experiences, or circumstances. There is no reason to throw that to the wayside as your relationship changes. To maintain the dynamic of your friendship, continue to do the things you loved doing together (even if they need modification).

If you bonded over surfing but your friend is now unable to surf, there are creative ways to keep that interest alive. You can take them to the beach to watch the sunset, enjoy a surf-themed movie night, or watch surf contest live cams and rank the contestants together.

If you bonded over a love of fine dining and your friend no longer feels up to the restaurant scene, bring it to them. Pack a picnic, order takeout and set the table, or recreate one of your favorite meals together in the kitchen. 

Whatever the interests are that made you friends, tapping into them where possible can help you feel a sense of normalcy in your relationship.

Seek outside support if needed, such as from other friends or professional caregivers.

Regardless of the reason you chose to provide care (it could be because your friend has no family nearby, fear of prejudice at a care facility, lack of support from the care recipient’s family, etc.), you have to find a balance between their needs and your life outside of care. It is important for all caregivers to take breaks from time to time, and there are a number of resources available to help you do so.

  • Adult daycare centers offer a variety of activities and services, including socialization, meals, and transportation. They can also provide valuable support and assistance with medical needs. 
  • Respite care programs can provide in-home support for caregivers. These programs can offer a wide range of services, from home-cooked meals to help with personal care needs.
  • Professional care is another option that allows you peace of mind while you’re away from your friend. Their doctor/nurses should be able to recommend resources to help you find a professional caregiver local to you.
  • There are also a number of online resources that can be helpful for caregivers – our website is a great example. Taking some time to explore these resources can help caregivers find the support they need to take a break and recharge.

It is important to be honest about any needs for personal space or time away from the caregiving role. If you want more information on any of these options, sign up for CareNav™ and we’ll help you get connected to personalized information and resources that fit your situation.

Closing Thoughts

Caregiving, regardless of the relationship with the care recipient, is a challenging, yet rewarding experience. By following these tips, caregivers can help to maintain the friendship while still providing the necessary care.

The California Caregiver Resource Centers are a network of eleven independent 501(c)3 not-for-profit organizations across California that were created to be a free resource for caregivers in the state of California. We would love to connect the family caregiver in your life with their local Center, where they can talk more about local programs for caregivers, answer questions, and explain how they can best support the caregiver in your life.

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