10 Ways to Help Someone With Migraine
Posted by Kerrie Smyres—January 26th, 2014

Whether someone has chronic migraine, high-frequency episodic migraine, or the occasional migraine attack that knocks them out for days on end, nearly everyone with migraine could use help during a flareup.

Unfortunately, uttering the ubiquitous phrase “Let me know what I can do to help” is often of little help. Even if you mean well and really do want to help, responding to this statement is difficult. Not only is it tough to think of tasks that need to be done when you’re put on the spot, asking someone to do unpleasant chores seems rude, and admitting that you can’t cope with the stuff of daily life is embarrassing.

Instead of making a vague offer of help, here are 10 different concrete ways to provide assistance. If you’d be willing to do a few different things, saying “I’d like to help you out. I can do either X, Y, or Z” gives the person the chance to tell you which of those needs are most pressing.

1. “Can I pick up something at the store for you?” Specify if you can only pick up a few things or if you’re prepared to shop their entire grocery list.

2. “Do you need a ride to any appointments?” Between specialists and treatment providers, the appointments add up and driving with a migraine can be dangerous. Be clear about your availability – is this a one-time thing that you happen to have time for next week or can they call on you when they desperately need a ride to the doctor and can’t find anyone else?

3. “Can I run any errands for you?” You can ask the question generally or make it specific to what you have on your own errand list, like picking up dry cleaning, dropping off library books, or going to the post office.

4. “Do you need any prescriptions filled or picked up?” Getting prescriptions filled can feel like a revolving door. You can offer to call in prescription refills or stop by the pharmacy for pick-ups (be sure to have the person’s address and date of birth in case the pharmacy asks for verification).

5. “Can I help you with any household chores?” Let the person know you have an hour (or however long) to spare and would like to help them with housework. Be explicit in what you will and won’t do. If there’s a task you absolutely despise, skip it – you don’t want the recipient to feel like they burdened you with their request.

6. “Can I make you a meal?” Whether you’re making an dish for your family that’s easy to double or you decide to make something special for your friend alone, food is always appreciated (and freezable food that can be saved for future meals is money in the bank). Some foods are migraine triggers for some people, so be sure to ask if they are any ingredients to avoid.

7. “Can I pick your kids up from school or take them to soccer practice?” Parents who have migraine spend a lot of time worrying about how their illness impacts their children and fret over missed opportunities because they are too sick to drive.

8. “Can I take your kids to the circus?” Many kid-oriented activities are noisy, bright or full of strong odors, all of which are hard on the migraine brain. Ask if there’s an activity that the person’s kids really want to do that the migraineur dreads, like going to the circus, zoo, swimming pool, or Chuck E. Cheese, and offer to spend an afternoon there with the kids.

9. “Can I help take care of your pets?” Offer to take the dog for a walk or clean the cat’s litter box. Walking often exacerbates migraine pain, as do odors, so these tasks would not only ease the mental burden, they could provide physical relief as well.

10. “Do you want to talk about migraine?” This one isn’t exactly a task, but it can still be a tremendous help. Migraine is so stigmatized that migraineurs often feel embarrassed to admit how much of a hold it has on their lives or are ashamed to be as sick as they are. Sharing the frustrations and grief with another person can be a relief. All you need to do is listen. Trying to fix the problem or making treatment suggestions without being asked to do so usually adds to a person’s frustration.

Some suggestions for ironing out the details:

  • Unless you plan to pay for whatever it is you pick up, tell the recipient they can write you a check when you drop off the items (or when they feel better) so there’s no confusion over whether or not they need to reimburse you.
  • These offers will probably be considered a one-time event. If you’re willing to make their grocery shopping a monthly thing or if you’re able to be on-call to drive them to an appointment once a month, make that clear.
  • If you offer to do an unpleasant task, like cleaning the shower, don’t tell them how exhausted you are afterward or how gross it was. They wouldn’t have taken you up on the offer if they didn’t already know how desperately they needed assistance and they already feel guilty for having you do such a yucky chore. (Yes, this one happened to me and it still stings.)

Thank you for recognizing that migraine is often debilitating and makes doing the normal tasks of life tough. Whatever you wind up doing for the migraineur in your life, you will be providing a tremendous service.

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About Kerrie Smyres

Now in her late 30s, Kerrie has had chronic migraine since she was 11. She's been writing about migraine and headache disorders on her blog, The Daily Headache, since 2005. Kerrie is also the cofounder of TheraSpecs, which makes eyewear for migraine and photophobia relief.

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