Even if we know it’s a possibility, few of us are prepared to become caregivers. When caring for aging parents or a loved one requires dramatic changes to your own life, the next steps can be daunting, even scary. The good news is that you are far from the first person who has had to walk this road, and plenty of expert advice and support systems are available to you on this journey. Here are ten expert caregiving tips that you can implement in your day-to-day responsibilities.
1. Don’t go it alone
Your decision to assume care of a loved one is rooted in a deep desire to do what’s best for someone you love. That does not mean, however, you need to take sole responsibility for the work. Experts advise1 that you share the load whenever possible, especially if you live an hour or more away from your loved one. You may find that siblings, neighbors, or members of a house of worship or support group will be willing to help with some of your responsibilities. First, take an inventory of all of your loved one’s care needs. Next, determine which responsibilities are best handled personally and which could be delegated to a willing helper. By building a caregiving support system, you will reduce pressure on yourself, help avoid burnout, and rest easy knowing you have backup in case a personal emergency arises.
2. Caregiving knowledge reduces stress
Uncertainty can often lead to anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. If you are feeling uneasy in your caregiving, the team of experts at non-profit HelpGuide.org say it’s important to equip yourself with as much knowledge as possible2. The more you learn about your loved one’s condition and needs, the easier it will be to process each step of the journey. Self-educating will also enable you to ask better questions of your loved one’s medical care team. Better questions lead to clearer answers and less anxiety.
3. Own what you’re feeling
For many caregivers, their new responsibility stirs up all manner of emotions. It can be confusing to make sense of it all and faced with this new reality, it is all too easy to suppress what you’re feeling. Instead, experts recommend3 that you make space to identify and name your emotions. Sadness, anger, grief, and loneliness are all common responses to becoming a caregiver. When you identify what you feel, it is easier to understand what you need and how to ask for help.
4. Caregivers shouldn’t neglect their own needs
You want to give your loved one the best care possible. That means you have to make your own health and well-being a priority. Caregivers often find, however, that they feel selfish tending to their own needs in the midst of caring for another person. Jo Horne’s “The Caregiver’s Bill of Rights” is a great way to begin overcoming this sense of selfishness. Remember, it is okay to focus on yourself, no matter what your work as a caregiver requires. By caring for yourself, you will have more physical and emotional bandwidth to offer your loved one.
5. Take 15 minutes a day
Your physical health as a caregiver is just as important as tending to your emotional well-being. But making big changes to your daily routines is difficult even under normal circumstances. Dr. Carrie Barron of the University of Texas at Austin reports that focusing on yourself for just fifteen minutes a day can make a big difference4. There are many activities you can try, such as stretching or yoga, meditation or breathing exercises like box breathing, or even a short walk around the block. Creative activities are terrific too, from working on a puzzle or journaling to playing an instrument or reading a book.
6. Protect your finances.
According to AARP researchers5, family caregivers spend an average of $7,240 per year caring for their loved ones. Many people are not prepared to assume this level of financial responsibility, and the unexpected cost of caregiving adds to the emotional toll that accompanies it. As you care for your own needs, make sound financial choices wherever possible to reduce any additional stress. To help, AARP has gathered some helpful advice to take you deeper.
7. Protect your loved one’s finances
As hard as it is to imagine, aging parents are frequent targets of all manner of financial schemes. From loan offers disguised as personal checks to strangers on the internet asking for money, loved ones who live alone may not realize they are being taken advantage of until it is too late. AARP recommends6 programming a list of trusted callers by name, rather than number. Think “doctor,” “pharmacy,” “neighbor,” or whatever else is most relevant. Then instruct your loved one to ignore calls from unknown numbers (some smartphones or wireless providers have this feature built-in). If you find yourself needing to manage your loved one’s finances, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau published a series of free guides you can reference.
8. Ask your employer for what you need.
Taking care of a loved one can consume more time than you realize. The last thing you need to do is carry the additional stress that goes along with being a primary caregiver. Rather than worry about what your manager thinks, schedule a meeting, explain your situation, and ask for what you need, even if it means taking a leave of absence. The Mayo Clinic recommends7 checking with your employer to see if you are covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It is better to get these expectations out in the open than to carry the worry into your loved one’s home.
9. Utilize community services.
Though the experience of caregiving can feel quite lonely, the reality is that many community resources exist for moments just like this. Helpguide.org recommends8 that you first make contact with your local senior center, county information, or the social work unit at your local hospital to see what services are available to you. Many communities are home to programs for in-home meal delivery, adult day care, transportation services to doctor’s visits, support groups, and more.
10. Support yourself with technology.
Though being a caregiver is seldom easy, modern technology offers many options to give you peace of mind when you aren’t in the presence of your loved one. First, make sure your loved one has internet available in their residence. Second, choose from a wide range of available technology products to help communicate with your loved one and monitor elderly patients remotely. AARP recommends9 a range of devices, from medical alert systems to health-tracking tools.
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Care Essentials is the all-in-one family caregiving app — giving you the tools you need to care for loved ones. Communicate and coordinate with everyone involved, keep the details organized in a centralized app, and even manage medication details.
What is Connected Caregiver?
Connected Caregiver is a remote monitoring service specifically for family caregivers. We understand that caring for aging parents and loved ones can be difficult, and have committed ourselves to equip caregivers with tools such as remote health and safety monitoring to make caregiving a little easier.
We believe no family caregiver should ever feel overwhelmed and alone. The incredible people who commit their time and energy to ensure the safety of their loved ones deserve the very best resources to safeguard their families and their own lives. Most of all, they deserve to feel in control and confident in their ability to care for the people they care about most.