Few life changes can leave you feeling alone and uncertain quite like becoming a family caregiver. It is a need that often arrives suddenly, and even when it doesn’t, we seldom seem to have enough time to prepare.
The good news is that you are not alone—even if it feels that way. 53 million Americans are currently caring for elderly parents or loved ones. While each person’s situation is unique, our collective experiences provide a roadmap for the journey ahead. Read on to learn about the six stages of caregiving that most people move through as they care for their loved ones.
Maybe you feel grief for all that has changed. Maybe you feel anger about the disruption to your already demanding life. Or maybe you feel guilty about some aspect of your relationship with your loved one—or even just guilt over another emotion. Those are all very natural responses to an emotional situation. But whatever you are feeling, the first stage on your personal journey as a caregiver is to come to terms with the situation and eventually accept your new reality.
You must first accept how you feel about being a family caregiver. Whatever you are feeling, know that it is okay to feel it. Chip Dodd Ph.D., a counselor and author who specializes in feelings, teaches that our feelings are a roadmap to underlying hopes and desires. In other words, there are no bad feelings except those that you suppress or ignore.
For example, anger is a feeling that reveals what you are passionate about. Guilt reveals where you long to see forgiveness or restoration. While you do not yet need to resolve your feelings, identifying these deep longings can help you make choices during your season of caregiving that will add greater meaning to your relationship with your loved one. Accepting what you feel also makes it easier to accept outside help, leading to the second stage of caregiving.
While no one can know exactly what you are feeling, you do not have to walk this journey alone. The second stage of caregiving is to establish and nurture your connection to a caregiving support system. Even if you are the only person able to provide regular care to your aging parent or loved one, you can invite a community into your life to help carry the load.
To begin, look to those closest to you. This could be other family members such as siblings, cousins, or even your own children. It could also be a close friend, neighbor, or acquaintance from a social or religious organization you belong to. Wherever you turn, odds are you know someone who has walked the caregiver journey personally or simply cares for you deeply. These are people you can trust to support you along this journey, and even the simple act of staying in regular communication can provide invaluable emotional support.
Next, look for a support group. Your local community offers multiple places to connect with other caregivers. Start by asking your loved one’s medical care provider or the social work department at your local hospital. If you are religious, ask a house of worship for a recommendation. By joining a support group, you surround yourself with supportive and empathetic voices who will be eager to share the burden every step of the journey. You can search through Google for a local group or join an online group through the Family Caregiver Alliance.
The next stage of caregiving involves developing your caregiving routine with your loved one. The logistics of family caregiving can be complicated. Maybe you work full-time. Maybe you have children living in your home. Plus, life doesn’t stop just because you have a new responsibility. Cars will still break down, homes will still require maintenance, and bills will still need to be paid. That’s why it’s important to embrace your core commitment during this new caregiving journey: your loved one.
Yes, caregiving requires commitment, but it also presents an opportunity to bond and connect with your aging parents or loved ones like never before. Whether the relationship is already close or requires attention, family caregiving requires regular communication over an array of new topics, from taking medications to meal-planning to arranging trips to the doctor. As you commit to your new caregiving routine, commit to investing in your relationship with your loved one. This bond will sustain you through every difficult moment and present entirely new opportunities for gratitude and joy.
If there is one thing you can count on while caring for elderly parents or loved ones, it’s that caregiving is a fluid experience. Each day will require flexibility and present you with a variety of small shifts and complications. Once they’ve embraced their new role as the CG, then they’re going to be able to adapt, problem solve, and adjust throughout their journey.
The key to adaptation is paying attention to where you feel friction—and then respond accordingly. When presented with stress many people experience paralysis, but you can avoid this by problem-solving each friction point as it arrives. If you worry your loved one isn’t eating well, you can introduce a meal plan or sign them up for a meal delivery program (your local hospital’s social work department will have a list). If you have concern that your loved one may fall, or if your loved one should be regularly measuring and tracking certain vitals, such as blood pressure or blood sugar, you can introduce helpful technology, such as Connected Caregiver, to monitor their vitals remotely from your smartphone or tablet.
This is also the ideal time to take an inventory of both your personal and loved ones’ finances. Caregiving can be expensive and extremely stressful if you lose control, and as you already know, finances require attention even under normal circumstances.
This phase of caregiving is all about you. As you walk the family caregiver journey, you will eventually settle into a rhythm. This is both a blessing and a curse. Rhythms are a blessing because they reduce stress in your daily life. But they can be a curse, especially during a season of caregiving, because your rhythms may be focused on your responsibilities, not your self-care.
To continually provide your loved one with the best care possible, it is essential that you also invest in yourself. In the same way, your caregiving journey begins with accepting what you feel and building a support system, you can consider this time as personal maintenance.
Investing in yourself can look like a lot of things, from health to hobbies. Make sure you are eating regular, healthy meals and making time to exercise or get outside. Reschedule any doctor or dentist appointments you’ve canceled while caregiving. Seek out a counselor or life coach to help you unpack everything you’re carrying. Keep a journal, set aside fifteen minutes a day to read, or prioritize a favorite hobby that you’ve neglected. While there will be aspects of your pre-caregiving life you will not have time for, invest in yourself and call on your support community to help make it possible. And don’t forget to have some grace with yourself. There is no one perfect way to provide care. Every situation is different, you are trying to figure it out and doing the best you can.
The final stage of your caregiving journey involves continually returning to the earlier stages of this journey, taking inventory, and adjusting as necessary. Whether you are caring for a loved one temporarily, such as after a major medical procedure, or long-term through a chronic condition or illness, you will need to revisit each stage of the journey to ensure you are always doing what is best for your loved one and for yourself.
New feelings will emerge that require attention. You will need to re-evaluate what you require from your support system. You will likely develop new points of friction in your relationship with your loved one that will require candor and attention. Meal plans, budgets, and medical care routines will need to be adjusted. And you will need to remind yourself to take care of yourself.
Throughout your caregiver journey, you will feel like you are on a carousel. Maybe it is spinning out of control. Or maybe it provides opportunities for unexpected blessings and meaningful connections. The difference comes down to how you manage the journey as you go.
Always remember, while no one else can feel what you feel, you’re not alone. You’ve got people who care and an array of professional services to support you along the way.
What is Connected Caregiver?
At Connected Caregiver we have committed ourselves to equipping caregivers with resources and tools such as care coordination and logistics, and 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.