When Illness Affects Friendships

Caring for someone with a progressive condition or chronic illness can be all-consuming. You have less time to go out with friends, so over time the invitations become fewer and fewer. Most of the time you may not notice, but over time you may find you’re receiving fewer invitations, especially around holidays or for annual events. It can hurt when you come across photographs on Facebook of friends at parties you didn’t even know about. But even when you are invited, you may feel unsure about going. Will your loved one be able to manage? Will people react with pity to the changes in their friend or say something offensive? Will you simply be too exhausted to leave the house when the time comes? When illness affects friendships, here are some tips that can help as you navigate a changing social landscape:

Change the Guest List

It can be frustrating to be around people who don’t understand the demands of caregiving or how your loved one’s condition has—or hasn’t—changed them. As your priorities change, you may realize that you’re more comfortable spending time with those who understand what you’re going through. If you’ve met other caregivers, consider reaching out to arrange getting together.

Consider Your Loved One’s Needs

When you get only a few invitations, you may be tempted to accept all that come your way. Before you do, make sure the event fits with your loved one’s changing capabilities. The loud, noisy cocktail party your wife once loved may be overwhelming to her now; a small dinner party or brunch with close friends or immediate family might be easier for her to manage.

Follow Your Loved One’s Lead

Social isolation has profound mental health risks. Even if you think the cocktail party might be too much, your partner might decide that they need to see their old friends or reconnect with an aspect of their healthier life. So if your loved one is capable of making decisions, let them choose.

Forge a Partnership

If you don’t have the time or energy to have people over, ask a close friend or family member to host an event on your behalf. This will give you and your loved one the social stimulation you need, at a scale that works for you.

Prevent Surprises

The Alzheimer’s Association offers free “Pardon My Companion” cards that caregivers can hand out in public so they don’t have to explain any disease-related behaviors. In the same way, with your loved one’s permission, you may want to alert friends or family who haven’t seen you for several months about changes.

Create New Traditions

If eating or conversation are difficult for your loved one, you may choose to pass on any sort of party and instead go to concerts or other performances. Alternatively, look for new ways to continue beloved traditions. Rather than caroling through the neighborhood during the winter holidays, visit the children’s wing of a hospital if mobility is an issue.

Seek Support

Finally, organizations that support your loved one’s illness or condition may offer support groups, social networking opportunities, or events, too.