Being a Family Caregiver
July 1, 2022
If you have assumed some of the responsibilities of helping to care for a loved-one, you’re certainly not alone. With longer life expectancies, advances in medical care, and the desire for individuals to remain at home, more and more people are taking on this important role. In fact, a 2020 survey conducted by AARP, found that over 50 million adults in the US provide unpaid care to a family member or friend. And as the baby boomer generation ages, this number will surely continue to rise.
You perhaps didn’t imagine or expect having such a role, but you should consider yourself a family caregiver if you have regularly shouldered some very common activities for someone, like:
- Helping with the laundry or house cleaning
- Grocery shopping or cooking meals
- Arranging doctor appointments or driving to the medical facility
- Speaking with medical professionals or helping manage medicines and pills or other medical care
- Paying bills or handling some financial matters
- Spending time with them or just being there
In a basic sense, a family caregiver functions like an extension of a loved-ones healthcare network, providing a mix of direct care and coordination of their care.
Whether you find yourself in this position now or in the future, the following will help you better understand your responsibilities and recognize your own needs as a family caregiver. Having the right set of skills and access to the range of support services available, can help you fulfill this challenging and rewarding role.
Starting Out as a Family Caregiver
Often becoming a family caregiver isn’t an expected or anticipated responsibility. But regardless of how you find yourself as a caregiver, you very likely haven’t been trained for it. However, it’s important to recognize that with a better understanding of your responsibilities, you don’t have to be a registered nurse or medical expert to be an excellent and valued caregiver.
As you begin to undertake this important family caregiving role, a good starting point is to determine your loved-one’s needs. Communicate with their medical professionals, specialists, counselors, or therapists to learn as much as you can about your family member’s health condition and the skills needed to help care for someone with this diagnosis. Make a detailed list of caregiving tasks that may be required. Determine which activities you are able to perform. Be realistic. Know your own capabilities, limits, and the time you have to give.
Whether you are a spouse, partner, adult child, other relative, or friend of one you are caring for, make sure to add the label of caregiver to who you are. By identifying as a caregiver, you will know to search for needed resources and find support for your loved-one, and as important, for yourself.
Caregiver Challenges and Needs
As a caregiver, it’s easy to see that your help can make a significant difference physically, emotionally, and financially to the needs of your family. Although it can be genuinely fulfilling, family caregivers often face challenges that can also make the experience feel overwhelming. Being aware of the following common challenges, supports, and tips can help you navigate this demanding, but gratifying role.
- Family caregiving can be stressful and elicit a variety of emotions
Certainly, joy, love, and a feeling of satisfaction are part of the caregiving experience, but stress, anxiety, fear, guilt, anger, resentment, and grief may all be familiar feelings, too. Accept that you have these feelings and pay attention to your own emotional health. Talk with someone you can confide in or speak with a professional counselor about how you’re feeling. Attending to your own emotional wellbeing is crucial to being able to provide care.
- Caregiving isn’t a one-person job
Understand that you can’t do it all by yourself and becoming overwhelmed or burned out will certainly impact your abilities as a caregiver. Don’t be afraid to reach out and find support. This might be from other family members, friends, and from professional healthcare providers. Being specific about what will help, will make it easier to ask for and find what you need. Places to turn to might be:
- Elder services agencies, council on aging, or local senior center
- National caregiver organizations and local hospital
- Social workers and counselors
- Veteran support groups, if care recipient is a veteran
- Professional homecare providers
- Adult day care, meal programs and community transportation services
- Your family member’s healthcare team
- Caregiving can impact other relationships
Even though you have taken on the family caregiver role, other family members may have conflicting opinions on how to best provide care. Additionally, the physical and emotional energy, as well as the time commitment required as a family caregiver, can take its toll on family relationships and friendships. Be prepared that maintaining and nurturing other relationships can require effort. Communicate and let friends and family know what’s going on and that they are also an important part of your life.
- Caring includes yourself
Feeling distracted or physically or emotionally exhausted can drastically affect how you care and connect with your family member. While you’re looking after your loved-one, it’s critical that you don’t forget about your own needs. You will be more successful as a caregiver, if you learn to care for yourself, too.
Remember, you also have emotional, social and physical needs, so:
- Make time for yourself with time to relax
- Set realistic expectations for yourself
- Say “no” to things you aren’t able to do
- Learn to ask for and accept help
- Stay social and maintain other important relationships
- Do things that make you happy
- Eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep
- Pay attention to your own healthcare and medical needs
Most importantly, understand that taking care of yourself is an important part of caring for someone else.
Caring and Connecting
Whether a result of our aging population, continuing innovations in medical care, societal healthcare trends, or financial concerns, the role of the family caregiver is becoming more and more common place. As such, there are many resources available to help you care for your family member.
Caring for an aging parent, a spouse, partner, or other family member is an act of kindness, respect, and love. Despite the demands associated with this important role, taking on the responsibilities of a family caregiver can be an extremely rewarding experience. Becoming a family caregiver
can help strengthen your family bonds and bring meaning and pleasure to both you and your loved-one in need.