As their aging parents continue to require additional support, many adult children must decide between providing care themselves or hiring outside support. According to the Committee on Family Caregiving for Older Adults, more than half of adults will receive a family caregiver’s help because of health problems or functional limitations by the time they reach 85 years old. Traditionally, caregivers assist their loved ones with activities of daily living, including medication management, eating, bathing, getting dressed, and running errands. There are different types of caregivers, but the most common are informal and formal caregivers. Informal caregivers are unpaid individuals, often a spouse, family members, friends, or neighbors, who provide support for their loved ones. Formal caregivers are paid care providers who provide support in an individual’s home or a care setting such as a residential facility or long-term care facility. For many caregivers, the role can fall into place naturally, starting with small errands and leading up to a full-time commitment.
Common Caregiver Tasks
Depending on the individual, caregivers can play several different roles for their loved ones. Many caregivers act as an advocate for their loved ones when it comes to their emotional and physical wellness. Caregivers often find themselves navigating the social service system, scheduling doctor’s appointments, or coordinating outside care. While these tasks depend on the individual, here are some of the most common tasks caregivers do according to the Family Caregiver Alliance:
- Buy groceries, cook, clean, do laundry, and provide transportation
- Help their loved ones to bathe, get dressed, and take their medication
- Transfer someone out of a bed/chair and help with physical therapy
- Arrange medical appointments, drive to the doctor, and monitor medications
- Talk with doctors, nurses, care managers, and others to understand the care plan
- Spend time arranging assistance for those who cannot be left alone
- Handle finances and other legal matters
- Act as a companion and friend
Common Caregiver Challenges
Caregiving for a loved one requires a tremendous amount of empathy, compassion, and energy. Along with the physical requirements of caregiving, those providing support also face the emotional challenge of watching their loved one’s health decline throughout the aging process. Caregivers need to be aware of the challenges that come with the role so they can seek support when needed.
- Isolation. It’s not uncommon for caregivers to feel disconnected from their friends and family members. Caring for someone else can often cause caregivers to forget about their own needs and interests, which can evoke feelings of isolation. Caregivers may feel like they don’t have time to pursue their own needs. However, caregivers who take care of themselves first have the energy to take care of their loved ones.
- Stress. Caregivers can often feel overwhelmed by the task of caring for another person. Managing medications, appointments, preparing meals, and finishing household tasks in addition to other life stressors can lead to caregiver burnout. Taking small breaks throughout the day to practice meditation or breathing exercises can help relieve stress, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
- Financial burden. Providing care for a loved one often means caregivers are forced to forgo other professional or educational opportunities. This financial burden can cause long-term stress, which is another contributing factor to caregiver burnout. Caregivers, especially those caring for a family member, should seek support from family and see if their loved one is qualified for disability.
Tips for New Caregivers
If you’re new to the caregiving role, it’s common to feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of supporting your loved one. Over time, caregivers will learn how to naturally transition into the role. While caregiving can look different for each family and their loved ones, there are some tips caregivers may find helpful, especially when first taking on the role.
Give yourself time to adjust. Transitioning to the role of caregiver may take some time for each individual. In addition to learning how to provide care, family caregivers are also adjusting to their loved one’s illness or loss of independence, which can be emotionally challenging.
Take advantage of downtime. Many caregivers struggle with taking care of their responsibilities, such as making doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping for their own family, or even doing things they enjoy. Caregivers should try to carve out time for themselves, even if it means asking family members for help or relying on respite care for a break.
Practice time management. Experienced caregivers often recommend prioritizing tasks and accepting that not everything will be finished in a day. Labeling tasks using the categories “urgent,” “important,” and “can wait” will help you organize your day and complete tasks depending on their urgency.
Create a support network. Caregivers must have support outside of their family members. This may be a group of friends, a licensed therapist, or a caregiver support group. Caregivers need to have an outlet to cope and communicate with those who can provide support and insight.
Deciding to become a caregiver to a loved one is not something to be taken lightly. While undoubtedly rewarding, it can be a huge strain on your life and your family’s life. Here are a few questions to take into consideration as you discern your role as a caregiver:
- Am I physically able to provide the needed assistance? (Could I continue doing this work for weeks? Months? Years? Do I have physical limitations for the work involved?)
- Am I prepared to perform intimate caregiving chores like bathing and helping with toileting?
- Am I able to keep from getting upset and angry? (Am I able to stay calm and treat family members with patience and kindness even when I feel tired and overworked with the responsibilities of being a caregiver?)
- Can I free my schedule to be available when needed?
- Can I afford to reduce or stop working? (Do I need to continue to work to meet my family’s and my current or future financial needs?)
- Am I willing to reduce or neglect other obligations to give the care needed? If other people depend on me (children, etc.), can I find alternative care for them to free up my time to take care of my loved ones?
- Are you confident that other family relationships (e.g., with your spouse) will not be negatively affected by the unduly stress of caregiving?
- Do I have a list of contacts to ask for help when I need a break? (Am I willing to ask for help if I need it? How will I protect myself from getting so involved that I never take a break or get help?)
- Would I be willing to purchase care to supplement the care I can give? (Do I have the financial resources to purchase supplemental care? Would I be willing to pay someone to help me provide the care that is needed?)
- Do the people around me support me in my decision? (Are they willing to share in some of the responsibilities?)
If you answered “no” to two or more of these questions, it might be time to weigh alternative options to caregiving at home.
Caregiving at Inspīr
We know how difficult assuming the role of caregiver can be for a family member. Our knowledgeable staff of professionals understands and is here for you and your loved ones throughout the journey.