The role of family caregiver often begins with two competing realities: you are happy to do the work because you care about your loved one, but the moment often arrives with little time to prepare. In other words, most adult children are happy to care for their aging parents, but they are seldom ready when the time comes.

Caregiving responsibilities can arise suddenly after a medical event or major surgery. Or it can be a moment of recognition that your loved one’s gradual decline requires you to take steps to ensure their safety and care. 

However your moment arrives, here are 10 steps you can follow to prepare to become a family caregiver.

1. Remind Yourself Why 

Being a family caregiver is rewarding but challenging work. It is helpful to enter into your new commitment with a clear reminder of why you are doing this in the first place. Whether you are close to your aging parent(s) or the relationship is complicated, maintaining a clear understanding of “the why” will help you enter the work with gratitude and remain focused on the hardest days.

A family caregiver has many reasons to take on the responsibility, including:

  • A chance to return care: Our parents or parental figures did a lot for us, and caregiving is an opportunity to return care. While many people have complicated relationships with their family, a common need can provide the opportunity for restoration. 
  • Spend quality time with your loved one: Your time as a caregiver may be long or short, but each day is a chance to spend quality time with your loved one. This work will provide unexpected moments of laughter, vulnerability, and understanding that may not have been present in prior stages of your relationship.
  • Keep care in the privacy of family: Accepting care is a vulnerable transition for your aging parent or loved one, and your decision to keep care in the family can be a comforting and welcome next step in the aging process.  

2. Talk to Your Loved One

This transition in your relationship will be difficult for both you and your loved one. Given these changes, it’s best to simply begin with a one-on-one conversation to clear the air. Topics you may discuss include:

  • Your intentions and motivations to be their caregiver
  • Your plans and caregiving schedule
  • Their feelings, needs, and concerns
  • Their hopes and wellness goals
  • Their thoughts on bank accounts, bill payments, and legal documents

3. Understand Your Responsibilities

A family caregiver must juggle a variety of roles. While each situation is unique, It is important to take inventory of your loved one’s health, living arrangements, and daily needs, including:

  • Administering medication
  • Monitoring vital statistics
  • Transportation to doctor’s appointments
  • Household chores or yard work
  • Caring for or rehoming a pet
  • Safety modifications around the house
  • Assistance with personal care and hygiene
  • Monitoring and securing finances
  • Communicating with family and friends
  • Coordinating with professional care

4. Evaluate Your Capacity to Care

Family caregiving places new physical and emotional demands on the caregiver. This work, while rewarding, is demanding, and caregivers can easily underestimate their personal needs. This can quickly lead to burnout and a diminished capacity to provide care. Now is the time to make plans to safeguard your own physical and mental health:

  • Evaluate your fitness: Take inventory of the physical demands of your loved one’s condition and ensure you can repeatedly perform the tasks without injuring yourself. Talk to your doctor and your loved one’s doctor about the steps and tools necessary to safely care for your loved one. If you feel like you can’t physically meet the demands of a family caregiver, it may be time to look for professional alternatives or ask someone else close to you and your loved one.
  • Commit to self-care: Build healthy choices into your caregiving routine, such as regular exercise, meditation, and healthy meals. Make plans to keep your appointments like doctor’s visits, counseling or support group meetings, or religious gatherings.
  • Build a care circle: Even if you are the primary caregiver, it takes more than one person to avoid burnout and provide sustained care for your loved one. It’s also important to think about the professionals involved in your loved one’s care, like physicians, visiting caregivers, and any specialists. A healthy and cohesive care circle is an essential support system that can transform your experience as a family caregiver. This article will show you how. 

5. Talk to Your Family

As the primary caregiver you may carry the bulk of the daily responsibility, but it does not mean you have to do everything alone. Your family can provide many kinds of support during the process.

  • Ask local family to pitch in: Nearby family like siblings, cousins, nieces or nephews, may be able to provide practical assistance. This could range from helping with chores to sitting with your loved one while you work or attend to personal needs. 
  • Involve family in health monitoring: Technology allows other family members in any location to help monitor chronic medical conditions or simply stay in the loop on how your loved one is doing. Services like Connected Caregiver use secure, smart medical devices to provide real-time updates on a variety of health conditions. These updates not only keep family informed, they also enable you to take a break with confidence that your loved one is being cared for.
  • Evaluate the safety of the home: As people age, things that may have been perfectly safe can suddenly become dangers in the home. Bathtubs can be come tripping hazards. Counter edges can represent additional danger. Stairs may become difficult to navigate. You and your family should make a thorough inspection of the house and make sure that all of the potential hazards are either removed or addressed in some way.
  • Consider Health & Safety Monitoring: You can’t always be with your loved one, but you can always be in the know. With safety monitoring, you can be alerted if your loved one suffers a fall or if they haven’t moved in a certain amoint of time. Health monitoring, you can help your loved one stay on the care plan set by their doctor by keeping track of important metrics like weight, blood sugar, oxygen level, and bnlood pressure.

6. Meet the Care Team

This may seem simple, but it is important to get to know the various medical professionals who are involved in caring for your loved ones. They will be your first call in moments of need, as well as your most informed source of advice.

  • Meet the doctors: Contact your loved one’s primary care physician and specialists and inform them of your intention to be a caregiver for your loved one. Keep a list of their contact information handy, and plan to attend appointments with your loved one.
  • Keep them updated: Don’t just wait for regularly-scheduled appointments. Inform the appropriate care provider of changes and ask questions. Monitoring services like Connected Caregiver can send automatic updates of vital statistics like weight, blood glucose, blood pressure, and more to the people you’ve included in your care circle. To share them with your doctor, just download the file.

7. Talk to Your Employer

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, nearly one in four family caregivers in the United States maintains a job while caring for their loved one. 70% of those workers report experiencing difficulties related to their dual role. If this is true for you, it is important that you take steps to reduce the unique stresses that are associated with caregiving while employed: 

  • Talk to your manager: Inform them of your family caregiving responsibilities and set an expectation for what it will require.
  • Ask for what you need: Be clear about what is helpful, including adjusting your hours, swapping responsibilities with a coworker, or asking for a laptop.                                                                                                                                                                                                            
  • Maintain a dialog: While you do not owe your manager confidential information about your loved one’s health, you should communicate frequently enough to keep both your needs and your manager’s expectations clear. Good communication reduces stress and will help you stay present. 

8. Hire Help as Needed

Despite your best intentions, you cannot be available 100% of the time. Your loved one may also require certain forms of assistance you are not able to provide. Outside help can provide a wide range of support, and can include:

  • Home visits from a nurse
  • Handyman or cleaning services
  • Temporary caregiving like adult day care or respite care 
  • Meal delivery
  • Shuttle services to doctor’s appointments

Dial 211 to contact the United Way and learn more about assistance options in your area.

9. Keep Reliable Records

Simple but important, you need to develop a system for keeping reliable records on behalf of your loved one. This includes:

  • Bank records: It is important to monitor your loved one’s finances to ensure their care remains in budget and to protect them from elder fraud
  • Legal documents: Locate and secure vital documents like their Social Security card, birth certificate, will, care directive, and tax records. Consider a lockable fire-proof document safe for storage.
  • Medication schedules: Talk to their primary care physician and write down medication information. Use a pill organizer to avoid confusion.
  • Vital statistic measurements: If part of your care routine involves monitoring a chronic health condition, you need to maintain good records of measurements to share with healthcare providers. A simple notebook or ledger will get the job done, but a health monitoring service like Connected Caregiver will record and share this information automatically with those in your care circle, giving you one less thing to think about. 

10. Understand the Cost

Unfortunately, family caregiving is expensive. According to AARP, the average out-of-pocket annual cost incurred by a family caregiver is $6,954. This amount represents a variety of expenses, from additional gas or food, to helping your loved one with medical bills or supplies. While this is much cheaper than assisted living, most people aren’t prepared to take on this kind of cost without preparation. 

  • Evaluate your budget: Take inventory of your expenses and see what you can cut. For example, you may have monthly subscriptions you can cancel that you forgot about. If you need a system to help, consider app-based tools like online banking or a budgeting tool like You Need A Budget (YNAB)
  • Talk to your loved one: They may be able to pay some expenses, such as groceries, personal care supplies, medical bills, or safety-related home modifications.
  • Apply for financial support: Depending on your loved one’s situation, it may be possible to receive Medicaid or veterans benefits to offset the cost. Additionally, you could ask family members to contribute to your loved one’s care. For additional information, contact the social work department at your local hospital. 

We hope this information helps you as you begin your time as a family caregiver. Know that what you are doing matters, and on the best and hardest days alike, support is available. 

What is Connected Caregiver?

Connected Caregiver is a senior medical alert and health monitoring system made specifically for family caregivers. We understand that caring for aging parents and loved ones can be difficult, and have committed ourselves to equipping caregivers with the tools 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.

If you’d like to learn more, click here.