There is no manual that can prepare you to care for a loved one. You have to learn as you go. You might make mistakes along the way, but you know that you are doing one of the toughest, important jobs there is.
If you ever feel lost facing the challenges of caregiving, try these seven tips for family caregivers.
1. Reach out
As a family caregiver, you are not alone. Take advantage of your network and local resources. Community programs can offer valuable insight and support while alleviating some of the stress associated with caregiving. Look online for listings of support groups and services for caregivers.
There are also programs available that take care of some caregiver responsibilities. You could enlist the help of a home wellness solution. A home health aide can assist with personal care, chores, and running errands. Home-delivered meal programs reduce the number of meals you have to prepare for your loved one. Other services might help with legal documents, insurance, and companionship.
Don’t be afraid to ask your own network for help. Friends and family often want to help, but they might not know how. Instead of brushing off vague offers for help, talk about your specific needs. For example, you might need someone to sit with your loved one for an hour while you go to the grocery store.
2. Know your plan of care
As a family caregiver, you might be unsure about some aspects of your loved one’s plan of care. Educating yourself about their health information will help you provide care with confidence.
Learn how to community effectively with doctors. You will better understand what is going on with your aging loved one’s health and be able to ask the right questions to their healthcare provider.
If your loved one is in the hospital, be present for discussions about discharge and follow-up care. You will want to know about medications, follow-up appointments, and transportation. These conversations will also help you notice issues when your loved one is back home.
There are resources available online and in your community to answer healthcare-related questions. Don’t be afraid to approach experts on topics such as providing care, insurance policies, and legal documents when you are unsure.
3. Maintain your health
If you are not healthy, how can you expect yourself to provide care for someone else? Value your health the way you value the health of your loved one.
Being a family caregiver is physically and mentally demanding. Small adjustments to your schedule can help you stay healthy while keeping up with caregiver responsibilities. For example, a nutritious diet is essential to staying energized. As a caregiver, you might not have the time to cook healthy dinners every day.
Many meals can be made ahead. Choose a day to prepare your meals. Then, heat them up throughout the week. You might also want to try slow cooker recipes that allow you to put ingredients in the cooker, turn it on, and walk away.
Going to the gym every day might not be a realistic goal for many family caregivers. Find short time periods to stay active and do activities that you enjoy. You might try taking a walk, gardening, or yoga.
4. Aim for balance
Sometimes, being a family caregiver can be overwhelming. If you feel like you don’t have time for yourself, remind yourself how important it is for you to live a full and healthy lifestyle while caring for a loved one.
You can achieve balance as a family caregiver by setting aside blocks of time for yourself. Frequent breaks give you time to rest from the demands of caregiving. Schedule time in your day to do a hobby, read, or simply relax.
Balance also means making time to socialize. Social activities are important for your wellbeing and provide you with a support system.
Let your friends and family know when you are available to visit or talk on the phone. Giving specific suggestions is a simple and effective way to help keep personal communications strong. For example, you might tell a friend to call you when your loved one is usually sleeping.
5. Modify your home
Reduce some family caregiver challenges by modifying your home to fit your loved one’s health and mobility needs. You might need to install handrails or ramps to help them get around more easily. Check with your family member’s insurance provider to see what home health material costs are covered.
Pay attention to fall risks in your home. Make sure cords are not stretched across the floor, walkways are clear, and the corners of rugs are turned down. Programs like SteadyU Ohio’s Matter of Balance send a professional to your home to evaluate fall risks. They also teach your loved one how to prevent falls and fall safely.
6. Create a system for information
Between bills, work documents, healthcare information, kids’ homework, etc., your kitchen table can quickly become a giant pile of papers. Create a system for information to stay organized and be able to quickly access the documents you need.
Throw away papers you do not need (double check before tossing them out!). Separate documents by categories that make sense to you. For example, you might want to group your children’s school papers away from your parents’ insurance information.
Use folders or collapsible binders to store documents. That way, you know where to find information. Take the appropriate folder with you to your loved one’s doctor or bank visits. Then, return the folder to a central, designated area when you get home.
7. Give yourself credit
Let’s face it – being a caregiver is a tough job. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can. Instead of getting hung up on mistakes, learn from them and move on.
If you find that the stress of caregiving is having a negative impact on your life or mental wellbeing, seek help. A counselor is an unbiased person who gives you their full attention and professional guidance.
Maintain your physical and mental wellbeing so that you are strong enough to take care of your aging loved one. Whenever you are in doubt, reach out to your friends, family, and resources available to help you with your family caregiving experience.
Need help caring for a loved one? VANTAGE offers wraparound services that help your family member age in place at home through Home Wellness Solutions, Behavioral Health Solutions, Meals on Wheels, and an RSVP Telecare program. Call us today at 330-253-4597 to see how we can reduce your caregiving responsibilities.
*The information in this article is intended solely to provide general information on matters of interest for the personal use of the reader, who accepts full responsibility for its use. This article should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, medical, or other competent advisors.