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By Paula Spencer Scott, contributing editor

As if next week's national day of giving thanks (Thanksgiving! Thursday!) weren't reason enough to express gratitude to those who care for relatives in need, it's also National Family Caregivers Month.

I know I'm preaching to the choir — of course you realize you deserve a pat on the back! — but maybe if you express gratitude to a fellow caregiver, it'll come back around to you. (And maybe your relatives or friends will read this with you in mind.)

Some ideas:


Mention caregivers by name in the Thanksgiving counting of the blessings. Many families, before they feast, take inventory of all they have to be grateful for. Be sure that those who are caregivers aren't left off the list.

Give the gift of a day off. But don't just offer vaguely and wait for the caregiver to take you up on it. ("If you ever need help with Mom, Dad…") The person may feel uncomfortable reminding you of the offer later. Instead, name a specific day. Pitch a thought-out plan. Be proactive and persistent.

Send a little something. If you live far from the caregiver, send flowers or a holiday card with a few words to let the person know you're thinking of him or her. Often it's the aging or sick relative who gets this kind of attention "“ and that's appropriate and great "“ but the caregiver will appreciate a singled-out nod.

Bury the hatchet. Family grievances have a way of sprouting like weeds in the stress of watching a beloved family member decline. If you really want to thank a loved one for all he or she does in caregiving, forgive and forget some sticking point between you "“ no matter who was at fault.

Go classic. Thanksgiving is a nice time of year for small tokens like a massage certificate, some specialty tea or coffee, movie coupons, a restaurant or grocery store gift certificate. These work for hired caregivers as well, which brings me to"


Send really good food to a facility. Bringing treats to a nursing home or hospital is almost always welcomed by staff. But they don't really want or need more doughnuts, pizza, and cookies. Think seasonal and special: spiced nuts, pumpkin or cranberry muffins, a veggie tray, cheese and crackers, an edible flower-shaped fruit arrangement, sparkling grape juice.

Provide the feast. For a special aide, hospice nurse, or other helpers who have to work the holiday, consider putting together a basket of turkey-dinner fixings. They can take it home to prepare it another day. Or offer to fund (or prepare) a special staff luncheon for a facility.

Offer a bonus. 'Tis the holiday season, and let's face it, hired caregivers are more valuable in terms of giving peace of mind and practical assistance than, say, your manicurist or dog groomer or others who crop up on annual lists of service people who deserve something extra over the holiday. (You may need to check what's permissible for people hired through agencies; some nurses and aides may accept no gifts while others have an amount ceiling.)

Make a donation in a helpful staffer's name. A nice alternative where cash is verboten. Give to a pertinent organization (a local hospice or the Alzheimer's Association, for example). Key: Be sure to let the person's supervisor know.

Above all, say it. The bare minimum way to give thanks to a caregiver is actually one that people in the business say they prize more than anything else: Hearing heartfelt "thanks." Write your gratitude down in a card or letter: "Because it's Thanksgiving, we're giving thanks that you have entered our lives to help X. And so we wanted to be sure you hear it directly: Thank You So Much for everything you do."

And if there are a lot of somebodys on your support team? Write each and every one. Bulk cards are cheap, but the sentiment is priceless.


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