Since the coronavirus started spreading across the world in 2020, millions of people have, without notice, found themselves in the role of family caregiver. Maybe their loved one’s paid caregivers became sick themselves. Or they left the profession to care for someone in their own family. But it doesn’t take a pandemic to throw someone unexpectedly into the role of providing this vital care for an aging relative. Just as often, a loved one who had been living independently experiences an illness or injury that requires more support at home. And suddenly, you’re a family caregiver.
Providing care for another person while also being attentive to your own needs can be difficult to navigate. However, it’s important to remember the wide range of resources and support available to help you stay organized and find balance in your own life.
“Caring for a loved one can be a fulfilling experience, and it’s often an opportunity to give back to someone who has given so much,” says Dr. Lakelyn Eichenberger, gerontologist and caregiver advocate at Home Instead. “But it’s important to be mindful of the physical, mental and emotional toll caregiving can have on our lives. By taking a moment to assess the specific challenges we may encounter and determine a plan of action, we can create a caregiving environment that’s beneficial for everyone involved.”
If you’re just beginning your caregiving journey, these tips can help make it a successful and empowered experience.
Setting Yourself Up for Success as a Caregiver
- Stay organized. As a primary caregiver, you’ll likely need to understand and manage your loved one’s financial, legal and medical affairs. Preparing and storing all important documents in one place can help alleviate any unnecessary stress when this information is needed. You may also consider creating a schedule that details the ins-and-outs, routines and nuances of the care. Keep a file in an easy-to-reach location, such as a nightstand, to allow easy access to information. Find care planning resources to help you get started.
- Practice open communication. Caregivers shoulder many responsibilities, but one of the most crucial is the ability to effectively communicate with family members and other care providers. If you’re a family caregiver, it’s important to plan for the inevitable tough talks that may be needed with older relatives. Ask your loved one about their needs and priorities, and be prepared to communicate these preferences with others.
If you’re still working, make sure to let employers know of your new responsibilities. This article provides some helpful tips to steer the conversation. Open communication with your employer allows both of you the opportunity to plan and prioritize tasks. Additionally, you may be eligible for paid family medical leave and/or up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a family member via the federal Family Medical Leave Act.
- Get support. If you have become the primary caregiver and it’s getting to be too much, don’t be afraid to ask for help or accept someone’s assistance if they offer. Discuss specific tasks that your siblings or professionals can help with such as meal preparation, light housekeeping. It may be beneficial to discuss respite care at home, in which trained Care Professionals provide these common services and more. Make the most of support groups, online resources, and help lines or chats to find answers to your questions, share ideas and even talk with experts and other caregivers.
- Take care of your own health. Caregiving should not cost your physical and mental well-being. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s time to re-evaluate your caregiving routines to protect your own health. Remember to prioritize your own needs when providing care to others – self-care is not selfish. For instance, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help you relieve stress.
Try small changes first: Eat a good breakfast, drink plenty of water and have healthy snacks, fruits, vegetables and nuts on hand. When it comes to exercise, try to fit in what you can, even if you only have 10 or 15 minutes.
- Keep safety top of mind. Regularly check for home safety hazards like loose rugs or extension cords and poor lighting which can be tripping hazards. Home improvements like installing handrails and ensuring furniture and fixtures are the proper height can also increase independence and help prevent a fall. Another aspect of safety to consider is minimizing the risk of illness to keep your loved one healthy.
While some days caregiving will be challenging, remember to look for the small victories and happy moments throughout. And remind yourself often of the love you hold for the aging adult who needs you. Find more caregiver support resources and tips to cultivate more optimism as a caregiver in our resource center.