What you can do to help carers of people with a life-limiting illness

When someone is unwell carers provide support and direct care. There are ways that you can provide carers with help to continue with this important role. 

Carers may care for a few hours a week or all day every day. This can be emotionally and physically demanding. Supporting and helping the carer will help both them and the patient.

Sometimes people don't get involved because they don't know how to help. Offer to help and take the lead from the person and their carer as to what would help, how and when. There are many simple ways that people can help.

Family and friends:

  • Physical help - take over a meal, take home a load of washing, do the shopping, drive them to appointments, cut the lawn, and prune the roses.
  • Time out - Give the carer a chance to have a break, offer to sit with the person who is ill.
  • Offering to drive them to appointments.
  • Company and social support - an offer of a visit, take afternoon tea and wash up, offer them a listening ear. Ask how long you should stay.
  • Helpful information - Find out about community supports such as a chemist that home delivers, or if the local library has a volunteer service that will bring around books and videos.
  • Helping with children - offer to have them over to play, or for a sleepover, organise a car pool to get them to school, sport and other commitments.
  • Passing on messages - let others know if visits are not wanted at the moment.
  • Caring for pets.


If you are an employer of someone who has taken on the role of carer, Carer Gateway lists ways you can help.

Caring from a distance

If you live in a different place to the person who is ill, you may find it difficult to contact health professionals or find out exactly what is happening. Ask the GP for a case conference or family meeting. This will help you to find out who is involved and for them to know who the family are. It can also help relationships within the family to have information from someone unrelated.

When someone is deteriorating, time of death cannot always be predicted. It can take some hours, and sometimes longer, to return to see family and friends. You may not make it there in time if the person dies suddenly. This is something that you will need to discuss, and accept as a possibility.

Coming home when someone is ill

You may not live near your family, as you or they, may have moved away. Someone in your family may be caring for a person who is ill and will be with them most of the time, if not all the time. It is a difficult role to take on. It may not be easy to offer advice to this person. 

You could try some of the following ways to support them:

  • offering to listen if they want to talk
  • acknowledge the importance of their role and what they have given up
  • offer to find out about services that can help them if they are finding something particularly difficult
  • offer to find out about respite services
  • offer to find out about support for carers including Carer Gateway counselling service.

The time that you are visiting can seem very short and you may feel pressure to get things done. Be aware that this can cause friction and may impact on your relationships within the family.

Last updated 02 August 2021