Providing care for a family member in need is an act of kindness, love, and loyalty. There are many different types of family caregiver situations. You may be taking care of an aging parent or a disabled spouse. Regardless of your particular situation, you’re facing a new role.
If you’re like most family caregivers, you have no formal training on your new role, “The Caregiver.” You probably never anticipated you’d be in this situation. You want your loved one to have the best possible care. The good news is that you don’t have to be a superhero, to be an exceptional caregiver. With the right resources and support, you can be the caregiver you want to be while taking good care of yourself.
Suggestions for the “First Time Caregiver”
- Learn as much as you can about your family member’s diagnosis. The more you know, the more effective you’ll be.
- Seek out other caregivers. It helps to know you’re not alone and that there are other people going through the same experiences as you. Being able to connect with people, will offer support and other potential resources.
- Trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You know your loved one inside and out-stick with your gut feelings.
- Encourage your loved one’s independence. Caregiving does not mean doing everything for your loved one. Be open to new strategies, technological advancements that allow your family member to be as independent as possible.
- Know your limits. Be open and honest about how much time you can give. It is healthy to ask for a break. You must openly communicate with family, friends and doctors.
Caregiving tip 1: Accept your feelings
Caregiving can trigger a multitude of different emotions. This may include anger, fear, guilt, sadness, and grief. It’s important to recognize and accept what you’re feeling, both good and bad. Don’t beat yourself up over your feelings- they simply mean you are human. Even the strongest most stoic person can suffer from exhaustion, anxiety, anger or guilt. The important thing to consider, how you will address these feelings. Being open and honest with friends and family will allow you the time needed to reboot. It is okay to accept help.
Places you can turn for caregiver support include:
- Family members or friends who will listen without judgment
- Your church, temple, or other place of worship
- Caregiver support groups and Online 24/7 Caregiver Support Lines
- A therapist, social worker, or counselor
- National caregiver organizations
- Organizations specific to your family member’s illness or disability
- Take advantage of respite care services. Respite care provides a temporary break for caregivers.
Caregiving tip 2: Don’t try to do it all
Even if you’re the primary caregiver, you can’t do everything on your own. You’ll need help from friends, family members, as well as health professionals. Getting the help and support you need, will allow you to maintain your own health and quality of life.
Before you can ask for help, you need to have a clear understanding of your loved one’s needs. List all the caregiving tasks required, being as specific as possible. Determine which activities you are able to complete. The remaining tasks may be the ones you may need to ask others to help you with.
Asking family and friends for help
It’s not always easy to ask for help. Perhaps you’re afraid to impose on others or worried that your request will be rejected. If you simply make your needs known, you may be pleasantly surprised by the willingness of others to pitch in. Many times, friends and family members want to contribute, but don’t know how. Here are recommendations to make it easier:
- Set aside one-on-one time to talk to the person
- Go over the list of caregiving needs or tasks you would like assistance with
- Point out areas in which they might be able to help
- Ask the person if they’d like to help, and if so, in what way
- Make sure the person understands what would be most helpful to both you and your loved one
Family caregiving tip 3: Attend to your own needs
Caregivers often put their own needs aside. It is necessary to keep and maintain your own medical appointments. Recognize that caregivers need to take a break, a 15 minute walk, a lunch out with friends or attending a local support group. Maintaining a healthy diet and establishing a physical exercise program will promote overall physical, emotional and mental well-being.
Emotional needs of family caregivers
- Take time to relax daily and learn how to decompress when you start to feel overwhelmed.
- Keep a journal. Write down your thoughts and feelings. This will provide perspective and serve as a way to release your feelings and emotions.
- Talk with someone to share your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes saying what your feeling aloud will help.
- Feed your spirit. Pray, meditate, or engage in activities that makes you feel part of something. Find meaning in your life and in your role as a caregiver.
- Learn to recognize signs of stress or depression, and get professional help if needed. The Mayo Clinic offers support in addressing feelings of caregiver depression.