People become caregivers in many different ways. For some, this may be a gradual transition, as they pitch in to support an aging loved one in lots of little ways over time.
In other cases, the transition into becoming a caregiver to an elderly loved one may be quite sudden. Many people find themselves thrust into caregiving after a parent goes to the hospital, suffers a fall, or receives a challenging diagnosis.
However you find yourself becoming a family caregiver, know that you’re not alone. Millions of people across the country serve as informal or unpaid family caregivers to aging loved ones.
While it can be intimidating to get started with caregiving or find yourself as a brand new family caregiver, there are lots of resources and services out there that can help make it easier to step up into this new role.
New to being a family caregiver and not sure where or how to get started? Here are seven important things to keep in mind as you transition into your role as a family caregiver:
1.) Learn As Much As You Can
Knowledge is power. If you feel overwhelmed with the transition into caregiving, it may help to set aside some time to research, prepare, and plan.
For example, if your loved one has a specific condition or health concern, take some time to learn about how that may impact their life, and what steps you can take to help. Get acquainted with your loved one’s doctors, so that you can form a connection and learn how to best communicate about any changes to your loved one’s health needs down the line. If your loved one has trouble communicating, look into ways you can make talking easier, and make time to practice with a friend or family member.
It also helps to prepare for all of the challenges that may come up as a caregiver. Consider searching online for forums or resources for family caregivers, or reach out to people in your life who may have been in this position before — such as friends, coworkers, or neighbors. There are many organizations devoted to helping seniors and caregivers dealing with specific challenges, including the American Diabetes Association, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Arthritis Foundation, to name just a few. You might also find valuable resources in your community, including caregiver support groups organized through a local community center or religious organization.
2.) Get Organized
As you first settle into your role as a family caregiver, it may feel like you’re absorbing new information and facing new challenges at every second of the day. It’s easy to start to feel overwhelmed and frantic as you think about everything that might go into caregiving, and how you can balance your new responsibilities with all of your existing commitments to work and family.
This can be a difficult moment. Remember to breathe and go easy on yourself. Moving forward, one step you can take to make things feel more manageable is to get organized. Here are a few action items to consider:
- Help your loved one organize all important paperwork for easy access, including medical records, estate planning documents, and contact lists
- Take an inventory of your loved one’s household — including medications, food, and cleaning supplies
- Keep shopping lists, and set out a strict budget if necessary
- Set up a caregiving calendar with doctor’s appointments, mealtimes, and other important events, and share it with friends, family, and professional companions who may be involved in your loved one’s care
- Develop a daily routine, and keep notes in a day planner or phone app; set reminders for important dates
3.) Respect Your Loved One’s Independence
As a new family caregiver, you may feel like you have to take on everything on behalf of your aging or sick loved one. Over time, piling everything onto your plate may prove unsustainable, making it more likely that you’ll suffer from burnout and stress. Meanwhile, your loved one may start to feel diminished or disrespected. Here’s a common situation, experienced by the AARP’s Barry Jacobs:
“During the years I provided loving care for my mother, I learned that helping her too much created its own set of problems… I thought it was my duty to do all I could to take care of her every need and keep her safe from harm. But as I made her dinner three nights a week, organized her pill box and straightened up her apartment, she wasn’t more contented; she seemed unhappy. With all my best intentions and concerted energies, I mostly succeeded in curbing her independence and squelching her spirit. She didn’t see me as her caring son so much as the overbearing usurper of roles she cherished… I finally realized that by doing too much for her, I trampled her dignity.”
Remember that caregiving is about supporting and uplifting your elderly loved ones — not taking over every aspect of their life. Seniors are adults with thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes. Be sure to engage them in important decisions, and make sure they feel seen and heard. Empower the senior to keep doing their favorite hobbies and household tasks for as long as possible, and try to think about how you can be helpful and supportive along the way.
4.) Take Care of Yourself!
Family caregivers often prioritize their loved ones’ needs above their own. As a caregiver, it’s easy to feel like you always have to be on the move, preparing for the next obstacle, and putting your loved one first. This is a natural and noble instinct, but it can also be a damaging mindset in the long run.
Studies have shown again and again that caregivers tend to put off sleep, exercise, and doctor’s appointments. Caregiving is emotionally challenging and stressful enough as it is. Failing to make time for yourself and look after your own health can increase your likelihood of suffering from depression, stress, or exhaustion. When you fail to take care of your own health, you also make things harder for your loved one. When you’re tired, sick, or angry, it’s more difficult to be fully present and give your loved one the support they need.
Remember, just as you want the best for your loved one, your aging loved one only wants the best for you. Make more time for yourself, and you’ll both benefit in the end.
As a caregiver, remember to carve out space and time to:
- Check up on your own health
- Eat nutritious meals and drink plenty of water
- Relax and unwind
- Find a hobby that lets you decompress from caregiving
- Spend time with family and friends
You deserve a chance to rest and step away, even if this means taking several short breaks throughout the day.
5.) It’s OK to Ask for Help
As a family caregiver, it’s easy to start to feel like you have to go through the ups and downs alone.
Knowing your limits and asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It does not mean that you’ve failed. In fact, it takes remarkable strength to reach out for a helping hand. Ultimately, getting help when you need it is one of the most profoundly generous and giving actions you can take as a caregiver.
There should never be any stigma or shame involved in asking for help and exploring all of the options available to you. You deserve it, and you are making a wise choice — both for yourself and on behalf of your family member in need of care.
There are lots of resources out there ready to make things easier for you and your loved one. If you can, find ways to delegate tasks and caregiving duties to family members, and be willing to accept help if your loved one’s neighbors offer to pitch in. Look for local service providers who may be able to streamline your caregiving duties. You may be surprised by how many local businesses offer home service for housebound seniors, including many doctors and therapists, banks, food delivery services, and dry cleaners.
Finally, consider your options for long-term care, including home care and companion care. Also sometimes known as respite care, this service can provide your aging loved one with the support they need to independently age in place in the comfort and security of their own home. With a companionship or caregiving service, you can rest assured that you’ll always have a professional on hand to fill in when you can’t. Available on a flexible schedule, professional caregivers can assist with many different aspects of caring for your elderly loved one, from providing transportation services, to assisting with housekeeping and meal preparation, to helping with ADLs like grooming or bathing.
6.) Be Patient and Embrace the Learning Curve
Things probably won’t click into place overnight. There will almost certainly be bumps along your journey as a caregiver, especially early on. It’s easy to start to beat yourself up and lean into feelings of guilt and stress. Be patient and gentle with yourself. Providing care to a loved one who needs it is a remarkable act of compassion, and you deserve the chance to learn and grow into the role.
Look at the big picture, accept your mistakes as they come and go, and try not to beat yourself up. It’s important to accept that you’re human and may experience difficulties, while also celebrating your successes.
At the same time, be patient with your loved one. If they are resistant to accept help, it may be because of an underlying concern, perhaps with losing their independence or their identity. This will be a transition for the both of you, and there may be moments where things feel awkward or uncomfortable. If you can, try to take these difficult times in stride.
Practice patience, grace, and empathy for yourself and others, and it will be easier to face the challenges of caregiving each day.
7.) Remember to Find the Joy In Caregiving
As a caregiver, there will be moments where you feel down. There will be moments where you feel excited and happy. Remember that the bad times won’t last forever, and the good times are some of the sweetest experiences that life can offer.
When things start to feel gloomy or overwhelming, remember that there is always a silver lining, Take a step back to breathe and focus on the positive things. Find and savor the moments and memories that bring you joy and peace, no matter how small they may seem. Hearing a loved one’s laugh, seeing a granddaughter bond with her grandmother, watching as your loved one gets to know a new senior companion… All of these are moments to be treasured.
Ready to Reach Out for Help? We’re Here to Keep the Conversation Going
Do you have an aging loved one who could benefit from the companionship and support of a trained professional caregiver? New to family caregiving and looking for guidance from knowledgeable folks who have been there, and know exactly what you’re going through?
We’re here and always ready to help!
Locally owned and operated in Chicago, Illinois, with clients in the city and suburbs, Companions for Seniors is a home care company like no other.
We offer a variety of services designed to help our clients remain in the comfort of their own homes, while ensuring that their needs are met. Our trained and bonded companions are available on a full- or part-time basis, and can offer driving services in the comfort of a company car.
Our services are flexible, convenient, and it’s easy to get started. Companions for Seniors provides a free in-home assessment of your senior family’s current situation, and in most cases we can be up and running in just a few days. We understand that every situation is unique, so we provide a personalized care plan that’s modified to meet each client’s specific needs. As a client’s situation changes, so does our plan of care.
Have any more questions about all things home care? Ready to get help for your loved one — and give yourself a well-deserved break? Don’t hesitate to reach out online today to get the conversation started, or give us a call at 866-910-9020.